Low heritabilities, but genetic and maternal correlations between red squirrel behaviours


Ryan W. Taylor, Department of Zoology, Michigan State University, 203 Natural Sciences, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.
Tel.: +1 510 367 8968; fax: +1 517 432 2789;
e-mail: rwtaylor@msu.edu


Consistent individual differences in behaviour, and behavioural correlations within and across contexts, are referred to as animal personalities. These patterns of variation have been identified in many animal taxa and are likely to have important ecological and evolutionary consequences. Despite their importance, genetic and environmental sources of variation in personalities have rarely been characterized in wild populations. We used a Bayesian animal model approach to estimate genetic parameters for aggression, activity and docility in North American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). We found support for low heritabilities (0.08–0.12), and cohort effects (0.07–0.09), as well as low to moderate maternal effects (0.07–0.15) and permanent environmental effects (0.08–0.16). Finally, we found evidence of a substantial positive genetic correlation (0.68) and maternal effects correlation (0.58) between activity and aggression providing evidence of genetically based behavioural correlations in red squirrels. These results provide evidence for the presence of heritable variation in red squirrel behaviour, but also emphasize the role of other sources of variation, including maternal effects, in shaping patterns of variation and covariation in behavioural traits.