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

Read further…

Talk at ISBE conference, New York

I gave a talk at the fantastic ISBE Conference in New York this year, entitled Effects of heterogeneity on collective behaviour. My presentation focused on the role of the boldness and sociability personality traits on the collective movements, coordination, and leadership in pairs and small groups of three-spined sticklebacks. A pdf of the talk can be found here (link removed).

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.

Read further…

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.
Read further…