Personality predicts individual responsiveness to the risks of starvation and predation

J.L. Quinn, E.F. Cole, J. Bates, R. Payne, Will Cresswell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


Theory suggests that individual personality is tightly linked to individual life histories and to environmental variation. The reactive–proactive axis, for example, is thought to reflect whether individuals prioritize productivity or survival, mutually exclusive options that can be caused by conflicts between foraging and anti-predation behaviour. Evidence for this trade-off hypothesis, however, is limited. Here, we tested experimentally whether exploration behaviour (EB), an assay of proactivity, could explain how great tits (Parus major) respond to changes in starvation and predation risk. Individuals were presented with two feeders, holding good or poor quality food, which interchanged between safe and dangerous positions 10 m apart, across two 24 h treatments. Starvation risk was assumed to be highest in the morning and lowest in the afternoon. The proportion of time spent feeding on good quality food (PTG) rather than poor quality food was repeatable within treatments, but individuals varied in how PTG changed with respect to predation- and starvation-risk across treatments. This individual plasticity variation in foraging behaviour was linked to EB, as predicted by the reactive–proactive axis, but only among individuals in dominant social classes. Our results support the trade-off hypothesis at the level of individuals in a wild population, and suggest that fine-scale temporal and spatial variation may play important roles in the evolution of personality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1919-1926
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1735
Early online date16 Dec 2011
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2012


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