Friday, August 31, 2012

Let's discuss the value of the study of animal personalities in a larger evolutionary context

Posted by Machteld

In keeping with the tradition set by Maren, please find attached two papers, of which one is a TREE paper, the other a review & synthesis paper from Ecology Letters, links and abstracts posted below. 

Since it is now apparent that we cannot ignore the body of work on animal personalities anymore (as for instance judged by the consistently high number of talks at the ISBE on this topic for a number of years now), I thought we could explore this topic in a wider context. Hopefully fuel for debate next Tuesday, 4 September @ 10.30. 

PS if you can't access these links and did not get an earlier email from me with the papers attached, let me know. 

Individuals often differ in what they do. This has been recognised since antiquity. Nevertheless, the ecological and evolutionary significance of such variation is attracting widespread interest, which is burgeoning to an extent that is fragmenting the literature. As a first attempt at synthesis, we focus on individual differences in behaviour within populations that exceed the day-to-day variation in individual behaviour (i.e. behavioural specialisation). Indeed, the factors promoting ecologically relevant behavioural specialisation within natural populations are likely to have far-reaching ecological and evolutionary consequences. We discuss such individual differences from three distinct perspectives: individual niche specialisations, the division of labour within insect societies and animal personality variation. In the process, while recognising that each area has its own unique motivations, we identify a number of opportunities for productive ‘cross-fertilisation’ among the (largely independent) bodies of work. We conclude that a complete understanding of evolutionarily and ecologically relevant individual differences must specify how ecological interactions impact the basic biological process (e.g. Darwinian selection, development and information processing) that underpin the organismal features determining behavioural specialisations. Moreover, there is likely to be co-variation amongst behavioural specialisations. Thus, we sketch the key elements of a general framework for studying the evolutionary ecology of individual differences.

Personality differences are a widespread phenomenon throughout the animal kingdom. Past research has focused on the characterization of such differences and a quest for their proximate and ultimate causation. However, the consequences of these differences for ecology and evolution received much less attention. Here, we strive to fill this gap by providing a comprehensive inventory of the potential implications of personality differences, ranging from population growth and persistence to species interactions and community dynamics, and covering issues such as social evolution, the speed of evolution, evolvability, and speciation. The emerging picture strongly suggests that personality differences matter for ecological and evolutionary processes (and their interaction) and, thus, should be considered a key dimension of ecologically and evolutionarily relevant intraspecific variation.

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