Isolation rearing does not constrain social plasticity in a family-living lizard

Julia Riley, Côme Guidou, Carolyn Fryns, Johann Mourier, Stephan T. Leu, Daniel W. A. Noble, Richard W. Byrne, Martin J. Whiting

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9 Citations (Scopus)
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An animal’s social environment can be both dynamic and complex. Thus, social species often garner fitness benefits through being plastic in their social behavior. Yet, social plasticity can be constrained by an individual’s experience. We examined the influence of early social environment on social behavior in the tree skink (Egernia striolata), a family-living lizard. In the first phase of this study, we reared juveniles in 2 different social environments for 1.5 years: either in isolation or in unrelated pairs. We quantified each lizard’s sociability at 4-month intervals using a standardized laboratory assay and found that isolated lizards were more sociable, spending the assay closer to an adult female, than socially-reared lizards. In the second phase of this study (at the end of 1.5 years), we released all lizards into a semi-natural environment, observed their associations, and used social network analysis to quantify social behavior. During the initial 6 weeks post-release, we detected no differences in social behavior between rearing treatments. However, during the following 6 months differences emerged. Isolated lizards were more homogeneous in the strength of their associations than socially-reared lizards. Also, at first, isolated lizards associated more strongly than socially-reared lizards. Over time, isolated lizard associations became weaker and involved fewer lizards. In contrast, the level and number of associations of socially-reared lizards were stable over time. Our findings suggest that early experience influences tree skink social behavior but does not constrain social plasticity: isolation rearing did not limit their ability to respond to a novel social environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)563-573
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number3
Early online date7 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2018


  • Aggregation
  • Developmental environment
  • Plasticity
  • Social competence
  • Social network analysis
  • Reptile


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