Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 1254–1262
Theoretical work suggests that both negative frequency-dependent payoffs and state-dependent payoffs can lead to individual variation in behavioural plasticity. We investigated the roles of both frequency- and state-dependence on the occurrence of individual variation in behavioural plasticity in a series of experiments where we manipulated perceived predation danger for red knots (Calidris canutus islandica). We found individual variation in plasticity in a trait with negative frequency-dependent payoffs (vigilance), but not in a trait with positive frequency-dependent payoffs (escape flights). Furthermore, there was no correlation between the average level of vigilance under low predation danger and the magnitude of response to increased predation danger, as would be expected under state-dependence. Thus, our results provide support for the hypothesis that negative-frequency dependence favours individual variation in plasticity. However, negative-frequency dependence alone cannot explain why plasticity would be consistent within individuals, and future studies should address the factors that might favour individual consistency.