Early social environment influences the behaviour of a family-living lizard

Julia L. Riley, Daniel W. A. Noble, Richard W. Byrne, Martin J. Whiting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Early social environment can play a significant role in shaping behavioural development. For instance, in many social mammals and birds, isolation rearing results in individuals that are less exploratory, shyer, less social and more aggressive than individuals raised in groups. Moreover, dynamic aspects of social environments, such as the nature of relationships between individuals, can also impact the trajectory of development. We tested if being raised alone or socially affects behavioural development in the family-living tree skink, Egernia striolata. Juveniles were raised in two treatments: alone or in a pair. We assayed exploration, boldness, sociability and aggression repeatedly throughout each juvenile's first year of life, and also assessed social interactions between pairs to determine if juveniles formed dominant–subordinate relationships. We found that male and/or the larger skinks within social pairs were dominant. Developing within this social environment reduced skink growth, and subordinate skinks were more prone to tail loss. Thus, living with a conspecific was costly for E. striolata. The predicted negative effects of isolation failed to materialize. Nevertheless, there were significant differences in behavioural traits depending on the social environment (isolated, dominant or subordinate member of a pair). Isolated skinks were more social than subordinate skinks. Subordinate skinks also became more aggressive over time, whereas isolated and dominant skinks showed invariable aggression. Dominant skinks became bolder over time, whereas isolated and subordinate skinks were relatively stable in their boldness. In summary, our study is evidence that isolation rearing does not consistently affect behaviour across all social taxa. Our study also demonstrates that the social environment plays an important role in behavioural development of a family-living lizard.
Original languageEnglish
Article number161082
Number of pages16
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2017


  • Asynchronous birth
  • Behavioural flexibility
  • Behavioural syndrome
  • Personality
  • Reptile
  • Social feedback


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