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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Social context mediates the expression of a personality trait in a gregarious lizard

Brand, Jack A.; Naimo, Annalise C.; Michelangeli, Marcus; Martin, Jake M.; Sih, Andrew; Wong, Bob B. M.; Chapple, David G.

Abstract

The social environment is a key factor that influences behavioural traits across a wide array of species. Yet, when investigating individual differences in behaviour, studies tend to measure animals in isolation from other conspecifics-even in social species. Surprisingly, whether behavioural traits measured in isolation are predictive of individual-level behaviour when in social groups is still poorly understood. Here, we repeatedly measured risk-taking behaviour (i.e. boldness; 741 total trials) in both the presence and absence of conspecifics in a social lizard, the delicate skink (Lampropholis delicata). Further, we manipulated food availability during group trials to test whether the effect of the social environment on risk-taking behaviour was mediated by competition over resources. Using 105 lizards collected from three independent populations, we found that individual risk-taking behaviour was repeatable when measured in either social isolation or within groups both with and without food resources available. However, lizards that were bolder during individual trials were not also bolder when in groups, regardless of resource availability. This was largely driven by individual differences in social behavioural plasticity, whereby individual skinks responded differently to the presence of conspecifics. Together, this resulted in a rank order change of individual behavioural types across the social conditions. Our results highlight the importance of the social environment in mediating animal personality traits across varying levels of resource availability. Further, these findings suggest that behavioural traits when measured in isolation, may not reflect individual variation in behaviour when measured in more ecologically realistic social groups.

Keywords

Among-individual variation; Behavioural syndrome; Behavioural type; Individual plasticity; Within-individual variation

Published in

Oecologia
2022, Volume: 200, number: 3, pages: 359–369
Publisher: SPRINGER