Leadership in fish affected by previous experiences and linked to personality

Leadership behaviour is affected by social experiences from previous partners and depends on an individual’s personality, as shown by our latest study with three-spined stickleback fish, now published in Behavioral Ecology.

sticklebacks

From the political affairs we see on the news, to making decisions with your friends, leadership is all around us. But next to humans, leaders and followers can also be found in many group-living animals, such as fish, birds, and primates.

Social animals may receive benefits from grouping such as protection from predators and help in finding food. But to ensure individuals reap the benefits of grouping, they must time and coordinate their behaviour with the emergence of potential leaders and followers as a result.
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Timelapse video of a boldness session

Continuing on from yesterday’s post about the personality testing for boldness, today I made a time-lapse video from one of the sessions to get a quick overview of the actual running of the experiment. For most experiments I work with 40-64 fish per batch and potentially run multiple batches. Therefore, to be able to test all fish on the same day I test 8 fish simultaneously in 8 separate lanes for one hour and run 8 consecutive sessions in a row.
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Testing boldness in three-spined sticklebacks today

Throughout the animal kingdom, individuals have been found to behave consistently different from one another over time or across different contexts. This is now mostly referred to as “animal personality”. As part of my PhD I want to understand what role such personality traits play in the structuring and functioning of social groups, i.e. in collective behaviour.

Today I am running an experiment to investigate the consistency of risk-taking behaviour, also known as the boldness personality trait. I work with three-spined sticklebacks that I caught in wild streams near Cambridge. The three-spined stickleback is a wonderful little fish that is not only easy to work with and keep in the lab but a model system for collective behaviour and animal personality.

Topview of the boldness tank with left the deep covered area that leads to an increasingly shallow area on the other side. You can see a fish and its trajectory in the toplane

Topview of the boldness tank with left the deep covered area that leads to an increasingly shallow area on the other side. You can see a fish and its trajectory in the toplane

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Just another (cold, 12 hour) day in the lab

Often I wear a thick winter coat when working in my lab but today I forgot it.. Just on a day when I have to spent 12 hours in the lab..

Often I wear a thick winter coat when working in my lab but today I forgot it.. Just on a day when I have to spent 12 hours in the lab..

Although most people will probably be enjoying another warm and sunny summer day (unless you live in Britain), I will be in my underground fish lab for 12 consecutive hours. It is about 11 degrees Celsius down here to keep the water housing the hundreds of sticklebacks nice and cool so they won’t get into breeding state and show the associated changes in territorial/mating behaviour. I am however feeling a bit chilly as well as I forgot my coat today.. By typing this I hope at least my hands and fingers will warm-up a bit.

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Animal personality and its role in collective behaviour

Everyone knows that our personality plays a large role in daily life, from our need for adventure and our desire to hang out with friends, to our discipline in work and our compassion with others. But when we talk about personalities in animals, or non-human animals as I like to say, many may feel it is different. Although most people use personality related terms when talking about our pets, the majority of people may still believe personality is a uniquely human characteristic. The interesting thing is, personalities exist throughout the animal kingdom!

Until about ten years ago researchers talked about the behaviour of animals in general terms, ignoring the behavioural variation between individuals because it was considered ‘noise around the mean’. However, during the last ten years, more and more researches have shown that personalities exist in a wide range of species. From birds to bees, all species so far investigated show that individuals often behave very different from one another and do so consistently throughout their lives in a similar way like we do ourselves. For example, some individuals might be bolder or more aggressive while others are more sociable and tend to follow others.
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