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Personality and Nest Defence in the Great Tit (Parus major)


Erik Matthysen, Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, B-2610 Wilrijk, Belgium.


A growing number of studies have shown that individuals differ consistently in a suite of correlated behavioural traits across various contexts and situations. Yet, most work on animal personalities has been performed under laboratory conditions and still little is known about the ecological significance of differences in personality in the wild, and the behavioural mechanisms underlying possible fitness consequences. In this study, we investigated individual differences in personality in relation to nest defence behaviour in wild great tits. Nest defence is an important aspect of parental care and involves a trade-off between two fitness components (i.e. survival and reproduction). As a measure of personality we used exploratory behaviour in a novel environment as this has been shown to be correlated with several other behavioural traits including risk-taking and aggression, two important behavioural components of nest defence. We found that the intensity of alarm calling towards a human intruder was positively associated with exploratory behaviour, while there was a negative association between exploration score and number of movements during nest defence. Thus, fast explorers are shown to respond more boldly towards predators in the field. More generally we show that individuals with different personalities vary in their anti-predator and reproductive investment strategies.