In wildlife, human, and laboratory animal populations, considerable variability exists among individuals in their trait-like patterns of behavioural and physiological responses to salient environmental challenges and opportunities. This individual variation in so-called personalities (also temperament or coping style) has important functional consequences in terms of fitness of the individual. It remains largely unknown how plastic certain personality traits are during an individual’s lifetime and we aim to understand the proximate neuromolecular determinants of personality differences.
In the proposed project we will investigate the effect of early developmental environment manipulations on (1) avian personality traits including sociality in adulthood and (2) selective neuromolecular mechanisms underlying the behavioural expressions of personality.
This project builds on a recently started Adaptive Life project on zebra finches housed in outdoor aviaries, with either ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ foraging conditions. We thereby influence the developmental conditions of the offspring, as there is less parental care in hard foraging conditions. Recent findings indicate that variation in developmental conditions causes differences in certain aspects of personality, e.g. sociality, flexibility and aggressiveness. Avian personality will be assessed using a wide array of behavioural tests covering different personality dimensions, including tests of dominance, boldness, reversal learning and sociality and we will determine the relationships between these different behavioural facets of personality.
In the same animals, we will study the putative neuromolecular mechanisms that give rise to developmentally induced behavioural changes. These include measures of serotonin, dopamine and nonapeptide (the vasopressin- and oxytocin-like neuropeptides) signalling in key nodes of the brain’s social decision–making network. These neuromolecular mechanisms will provide us with a first insight in the causative chain from developmental conditions to personality.
The proposed project, by integrating behavioural biology, neurobiology and ontogeny, will critically advance our understanding of the causes of consistent individual differences.