Exploring the genetics of nestling personality traits in a wild passerine bird: testing the phenotypic gambit


  • Jon E. Brommer,

    Corresponding author
    1. ARONIA Coastal Zone Research Team, Novia University of Applied Sciences and Åbo Akademi University, Raseborgsvägen 9, FI-10600 Ekenäs, Finland
    • Department of Biology, University of Turku, University Hill, FI-20014 Turku, Finland
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  • Edward Kluen

    1. Bird Ecology Unit, Department of Biosciences, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 65 (Viikinkaari 1), FI-00014 Helsinki, Finland
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Jon Brommer, Department of Biology, University of Turku, FIN–20014, Turku, Finland. Tel: +35823335573; Fax: +35823336598; E-mail: jon.brommer@utu.fi


When several personality traits covary, they form a behavioral syndrome. Understanding the evolutionary dynamics of a behavioral syndrome requires knowledge of its genetic underpinning. At present, our understanding of the genetic basis of behavioral syndromes is largely restricted to domestic and laboratory animals. Wild behavioral syndromes are mostly inferred on the basis of phenotypic correlations, and thus make the “phenotypic gambit” of assuming that these phenotypic correlations capture the underlying genetic correlations. On the basis of 3 years of reciprocal cross-fostering of 2896 nestlings of 271 families within a pedigreed population, we show that the nestling personality traits handling aggression, breathing rate, and docility are heritable (h2 = 16–29%), and often have a pronounced “nest-of-rearing” variance component (10–15%), but a relatively small “nest-of-origin” variance component (0–7%). The three nestling personality traits form a behavioral syndrome on the phenotypic and genetic level. Overall, the phenotypic correlations provide a satisfactory description of the genetic ones, but significantly underestimate the magnitude of one of the pairwise genetic correlations, which mirrors the conclusion based on domestic and laboratory studies.