Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of procbThe Royal Society PublishingProceedings BAboutBrowse by SubjectAlertsFree Trial
Proc Biol Sci. 2004 April 22; 271(1541): 847–852.
PMCID: PMC1691663

Fitness consequences of avian personalities in a fluctuating environment.


Individual animals differ in the way they cope with challenges in their environment, comparable with variation in human personalities. The proximate basis of variation in personality traits has received considerable attention, and one general finding is that personality traits have a substantial genetic basis. This poses the question of how variation in personality is maintained in natural populations. We show that selection on a personality trait with high heritability fluctuates across years within a natural bird population. Annual adult survival was related to this personality trait (behaviour in novel environments) but the effects were always opposite for males and females, and reversed between years. The number of offspring surviving to breeding was also related to their parents' personalities, and again selection changed between years. The observed annual changes in selection pressures coincided with changes in environmental conditions (masting of beeches) that affect the competitive regimes of the birds. We expect that the observed fluctuations in environmental factors lead to fluctuations in competition for space and food, and these, in association with variations in population density, lead to a variation in selection pressure, which maintains genetic variation in personalities.

Full Text

The Full Text of this article is available as a PDF (188K).

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Boissy A. Fear and fearfulness in animals. Q Rev Biol. 1995 Jun;70(2):165–191. [PubMed]
  • Both C, Visser ME, Verboven N. Density-dependent recruitment rates in great tits: the importance of being heavier. Proc Biol Sci. 1999 Mar 7;266(1418):465–465. [PMC free article]
  • Bouchard TJ, Jr, Loehlin JC. Genes, evolution, and personality. Behav Genet. 2001 May;31(3):243–273. [PubMed]
  • Bürger Reinhard, Gimelfarb Alexander. Fluctuating environments and the role of mutation in maintaining quantitative genetic variation. Genet Res. 2002 Aug;80(1):31–46. [PubMed]
  • Dingemanse Niels J, Both Christiaan, van Noordwijk Arie J, Rutten Anne L, Drent Piet J. Natal dispersal and personalities in great tits (Parus major). Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Apr 7;270(1516):741–747. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Drent Pieter J, van Oers Kees, van Noordwijk Arie J. Realized heritability of personalities in the great tit (Parus major). Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Jan 7;270(1510):45–51. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Eaves LJ, Martin NG, Heath AC, Hewitt JK, Neale MC. Personality and reproductive fitness. Behav Genet. 1990 Sep;20(5):563–568. [PubMed]
  • Gosling SD. From mice to men: what can we learn about personality from animal research? Psychol Bull. 2001 Jan;127(1):45–86. [PubMed]
  • Kagan J, Reznick JS, Snidman N. Biological bases of childhood shyness. Science. 1988 Apr 8;240(4849):167–171. [PubMed]
  • Koolhaas JM, Korte SM, De Boer SF, Van Der Vegt BJ, Van Reenen CG, Hopster H, De Jong IC, Ruis MA, Blokhuis HJ. Coping styles in animals: current status in behavior and stress-physiology. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1999 Nov;23(7):925–935. [PubMed]
  • Marchetti C, Drent PJ. Individual differences in the use of social information in foraging by captive great tits. Anim Behav. 2000 Jul;60(1):131–140. [PubMed]
  • Réale D, Gallant BY, Leblanc M, Festa-Bianchet M. Consistency of temperament in bighorn ewes and correlates with behaviour and life history. Anim Behav. 2000 Nov;60(5):589–597. [PubMed]
  • Wilson DS. Adaptive individual differences within single populations. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1998 Feb 28;353(1366):199–205. [PMC free article]

Articles from Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences are provided here courtesy of The Royal Society