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Parent personality is linked to juvenile mortality and stress behavior in the arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus)

  • Choi, Seoyun1
  • Grocutt, Emma1
  • Erlandsson, Rasmus1
  • Angerbjörn, Anders1
  • 1 Stockholm University, Stockholm, 106 91, Sweden , Stockholm (Sweden)
Published Article
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Springer Berlin Heidelberg
Publication Date
Dec 03, 2019
DOI: 10.1007/s00265-019-2772-y
Springer Nature


AbstractLife history theory predicts that individuals will differ in their risk-taking behavior according to their expected future fitness. Understanding consequences of such individual variation within a behavioral trait is crucial in explaining potential trade-offs between different traits and in predicting future dynamics in changing environments. Here, we studied individuals in a wild arctic fox population to explore if (1) individual variation in risk-taking behaviors of adult arctic foxes and in stress-dealing behaviors of their juveniles exist and are consistent over time to verify the existence of personality traits; (2) those behavioral traits in adults and juveniles are correlated; (3) they can explain fitness-related components (i.e., juvenile physical condition, mortality rate). We presented simple field experiments assessing behavioral traits by observing adult reactions toward approaching observers, and juvenile behaviors while trapping. Through the experiments, we found highly consistent individual variation of adults in vigilance and boldness levels, and more flexible juvenile behavioral traits categorized as investigating, passive, and escaping. The offspring of bolder adults exhibited more investigating behaviors and were less passive than the offspring of shy adults. Juvenile physical condition was not related to their mortality nor any behavioral traits of either parents or themselves. Lastly, highly investigating and active juveniles with bold parents had significantly lower mortality rates. This shows that interactions between parent personality and juvenile behavioral traits affect a fitness-related component in the life history of individuals.Significance statementThe recent surge of interest in consistent individual difference in behavior, also called as animal personality, has already focused on its fitness consequences, but few studies have investigated the interactions between parent and offspring personality, and their ecological consequences. Moreover, this has rarely been studied in wild canids. The arctic fox is a charismatic species showing wide individual variation in behaviors. They live in highly fluctuating tundra ecosystems providing different selection regimes, making it even more eco-evolutionarily intriguing. Yet, few studies looked into behavioral traits and their importance in this system. While introducing simple methods to improve personality research in the wild, we provide a unique example of how variation in both parents and their juveniles collectively works for group dynamics in a cyclic population. This provides a firm basic for understanding behavior-mediated dynamics and opens up broader questions on how fluctuating environments exert varying pressures on individual differences.

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