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How stable are personalities? A multivariate view of behavioural variation over long and short timescales in the sheepshead swordtail, Xiphophorus birchmanni

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    Rights statement: This is a PDF file of an unedited manuscript that has been accepted for publication. The publisher version is available at: 10.1007/s00265-014-1692-0

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)791-803
Number of pages13
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number5
Early online date4 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - May 2014


Many studies have revealed repeatable (among-individual) variance in behavioural traits consistent with variation in animal personality; however, these studies are often conducted using data collected over single sampling periods, most commonly with short time intervals between observations. Consequently, it is not clear whether population-level patterns of behavioural variation are stable across longer timescales and/or multiple sampling periods or whether individuals maintain consistent ranking of behaviours (and/or personality) over their lifetimes. Here, we address these questions in a captive-bred population of a tropical freshwater poeciliid fish, Xiphophorus birchmanni. Using a multivariate approach, we estimate the among-individual variance-covariance matrix (I), for a set of behavioural traits repeatedly assayed in two different experimental contexts (open-field trials, emergence and exploration trials) over long-term (56 days between observations) and short-term (4-day observation interval) time periods. In both long- and short-term data sets, we find that traits are repeatable and the correlation structure of I is consistent with a latent axis of variation in boldness. While there are some qualitative differences in the way individual traits contribute to boldness and a tendency towards higher repeatabilities in the short-term study, overall, we find that population-level patterns of among-individual behavioural (co)variance to be broadly similar over both time frames. At the individual level, we find evidence that short-term studies can be informative for an individual’s behavioural phenotype over longer (e.g. lifetime) periods. However, statistical support is somewhat mixed and, at least for some observed behaviours, relative rankings of individual performance change significantly between data sets.

    Research areas

  • Multivariate behaviour , I matrix, Boldness , Stability , Repeatability, Personality

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