Personality in captivity reflects personality in the wild

Journal club (BE Forum) on Herborn et al (2010) Anim. Behav. 79 835-843

To investigate the ecological significance of personality, researchers generally measure behavioural traits in captivity. Whether behaviour in captivity is analogous to behaviour in the wild, however, is seldom tested. We compared individual behaviour between captivity and the wild in blue tits, Cyanistes caeruleus. Over two winters, 125 blue tits were briefly brought into captivity to measure exploratory tendency and neophobia using variants of standard personality assays. Each was then released, fitted with a passive integrated transponder. Using an electronic monitoring system, we then recorded individuals' use of feeders as they foraged in the wild. We used variation in the discovery of new feeders to score 91 birds for exploratory tendency in the wild. At eight permanent feeding stations, 78 birds were assayed for neophobia in the wild. Behavioural variation in the captive personality trials was independent of permanent (e.g. sex) and nonpermanent (e.g. condition or weather) sources of between-individual variation at capture. Individual exploratory tendency and neophobia were consistent and repeatable in captivity, and analogous traits were repeatable in the wild; thus all constituted personality traits in the blue tit. Exploratory tendency and neophobia were not correlated with each other, in either the captive or the wild context. Therefore they are independent traits in blue tits, in contrast to many species. Finally, exploratory tendency and neophobia measured in captivity positively predicted the analogous traits measured in the wild. Reflecting differences in the use of feeding opportunities, personality in captivity therefore revealed relevant differences in foraging behaviour between individuals.

Published Mar. 6, 2012 2:00 PM - Last modified Jan. 18, 2013 3:17 PM