Have you ever wondered why animals from the same population can display different personalities? Why some individuals are more aggressive or social than others? Last but not least: Why should you worry about all that?
Animal behaviour is a field in which humans have always showed curiosity and interest. Studies have been done since the beginning of the twentieth century and despite being a young field, their relevance in researches has increased substantially in the last decades. Over the years, many researchers from different areas have been contributing for the development of new studies, experiments and theories, which is important to the consolidation and expansion of the area. Here in this discussion, the focus will be just in non-humans animals, in despite of some researches, specially in primates, provides new perspectives for the analysis of behaviour in humans.
Nowadays, several theories have been proposed to explain how variation in personality is maintained in natural populations. Many are discussed in “Réale, D., & Dingemanse, N. J. (2012). Animal personality. eLS.”, an excellent paper that worth the reading for those who want to understand more about Animal Personality, not just the mechanisms that maintain different personalities between individuals, but all the background related to this subject and moreover, how scientists measure personality. The most famous theories can be summarised in:
1) Personality differences are linked to life history traits and energetics demand in many species;
2) Environmental conditions can change fitness performance in terms of survival and reproduction (e.g. variation in food abundance, predation pressures, population density);
3) Fitness performance is frequency-dependent. In other words: in a population where too many individuals are aggressive, being unaggressive can be at a fitness advantage, for example;
4) Selection can favor specific combinations of traits, also called correlational selection. In this case a combination of different traits has influence on an individual’s fitness.
Ok. The theories are set, but why is studying personality important?
Studies show that individual behaviour differences are fundamental to divers ecological processes and can affect the social structure and the social functioning in groups and populations. Processes such as dispersion, migration, mate-choice parental investment among many others that influence directly on animal’s life.
Understanding animal behaviour is extremely important to provide knowledge to development strategies on environmental conservation. For example, knowledge of animal foraging behaviour can lead to an understanding of forest regeneration, because many animals act as seed dispersers and are essential for the propagation of tree species and habitat preservation.
The conservation of endangered species requires knowledge about natural behaviour of these species (migratory patterns, range size, interactions with other groups, demands of foraging, reproductive behaviour, communication etc.) to create effective reserves. With the growing importance of environmental programs and management, animal behaviour research becomes increasingly important.
Through personality’s studies scientists can perceive patterns and forecast situations that can help us to understand better the animals, how they live and how we can improve our conservation action to increase their quality of life.
Rafael Arnoni Trovó