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Personality predicts behavioral flexibility in a fluctuating, natural environment

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle



Publication details

JournalBehavioral Ecology
DateE-pub ahead of print - 21 Aug 2014
DatePublished (current) - Dec 2014
Issue number6
Number of pages6
Pages (from-to)1374-1379
Early online date21/08/14
Original languageEnglish


In captivity, personality types differ in behavioral flexibility: “fast” (neophilic, exploratory, and aggressive) types quickly form routines, whereas “slow” types continually adjust their behavior with environmental changes. If these differences extend to pertinent natural environmental changes, which indicate changing predation or starvation threat, then personality may reflect important variation in how animals manage risk. We examined whether personality traits classified in captivity would predict the behavioral flexibility of blue tits Cyanistes caeruleus as they foraged in the wild. Behavioral flexibility was defined as the tendency to adjust feeder use with changing winter air temperature, an indicator of starvation risk. At the population level, birds reduced their feeder use on warm days. Individuals, though, varied widely, with some instead using feeders at a relatively fixed, temperature-independent rate. Sex and size, correlates of dominance in blue tits, did not predict behavioral flexibility. Instead, behavioral flexibility was predicted by age and 2 personality traits: old, neophobic, and exploratory birds were more behaviorally flexible than young, neophilic, and nonexploratory birds. Our findings suggest that personality types differ in how they use information about their environments and hence cope with environmental change.

Bibliographical note


    Research areas

  • Behavioral plasticity, Cyanistes caeruleus, Environmental change, Exploration, Neophobia, Starvation risk

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