Predation risk and abiotic habitat parameters affect personality traits in extremophile populations of a neotropical fish (Poecilia vivipara)

Carolin Sommer-Trembo, Ana Cristina Petry, Guilherme Gomes Silva, Sebastijan Martin Vurusic, Jakob Gismann, Jasmin Baier, Sarah Krause, Julia de Araujo Cardoso, Rudiger Riesch, Martin Plath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

206 Downloads (Pure)


Understanding whether and how ambient ecological conditions affect the distribution of personality types within and among populations lies at the heart of research on animal personality. Several studies have focussed on only one agent of divergent selection (or driver of plastic changes in behavior), considering either predation risk or a single abiotic ecological factor. Here, we investigated how an array of abiotic and biotic environmental factors simultaneously shape population differences in boldness, activity in an open-field test, and sociability/shoaling in the livebearing fish Poecilia vivipara from six ecologically different lagoons in southeastern Brazil. We evaluated the relative contributions of variation in predation risk, water transparency/visibility, salinity (ranging from oligo- to hypersaline), and dissolved oxygen. We also investigated the role played by environmental factors for the emergence, strength, and direction of behavioral correlations. Water transparency explained most of the behavioral variation, whereby fish from lagoons with low water transparency were significantly shyer, less active, and shoaled less than fish living under clear water conditions. When we tested additional wild-caught fish from the same lagoons after acclimating them to homogeneous laboratory conditions, population differences were largely absent, pointing toward behavioral plasticity as a mechanism underlying the observed behavioral differences. Furthermore, we found correlations between personality traits (behavioral syndromes) to vary substantially in strength and direction among populations, with no obvious associations with ecological factors (including predation risk). Altogether, our results suggest that various habitat parameters simultaneously shape the distribution of personality types, with abiotic factors playing a vital (as yet underestimated) role. Furthermore, while predation is often thought to lead to the emergence of behavioral syndromes, our data do not support this assumption.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6570-6581
Number of pages12
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number16
Early online date18 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • animal personality
  • behavioural syndromes
  • boldness
  • shoaling
  • water transparency

Cite this