The fast and the curious: locomotor performance and exploratory behaviour in eastern chipmunks

  • Sasha L. Newar
  • Vincent Careau
Original Article


Although locomotor performance and behaviour are closely linked to survival in many wild animals, our understanding of the potentially important co-adaptations between locomotor performance and behaviour is still limited. Our objective was to quantify the among-individual correlation (rind) and within-individual correlation (re) between locomotor performance and personality traits in wild eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus). We repeatedly measured sprint speed, docility, and exploration behaviour and found that all traits were significantly repeatable. Sprint speed was not correlated with docility and time spent in the centre of the open field. However, sprint speed was significantly and negatively correlated with distance moved in the open field at both the among-individual (rind = − 0.59) and the within-individual (re = − 0.54) levels. Thus, individuals with high locomotor performance are less explorative in a novel environment, which is somewhat counter-intuitive and opposite to the predictions generated by the pace-of-life syndrome and the “phenotypic compensation” hypotheses. Our results suggest that sprint speed and exploratory behaviour are co-specialised traits as they can reinforce each other’s effects in reducing predation risk. In refuging species such as chipmunks (i.e. individuals have to leave a refuge to forage), low exploration levels may reduce exposure to predators and high sprint speed may further reduce the probability of capture given an encounter with a predator. Thus, looking at how locomotor performance and behaviour interact and contribute to fitness is key to understanding the multivariate architecture of—and co-adaptations among—ecologically relevant complex phenotypes.

Significance statement

A large number of studies have looked at the relationships between locomotor performance and behaviour at the inter-specific, among-individual, and within-individual levels, with mixed results. We found a significant and negative relationship between sprint speed and distance moved during an open-field test, which goes against the prediction of the pace-of-life syndrome and the “phenotypic compensation” hypotheses. Instead, these results support the “trait co-specialisation” hypothesis. In refuging animals such as chipmunks, reactive behaviours (being shy and less exploratory) may reduce exposure to predators and high sprint speed may further the probability of escaping given an encounter with a predator. Taken all together, the negative among- and within-individual correlations and sensitivity to the same covariates (parasites, and to a less extent body mass) suggest that sprint speed and exploratory behaviour are co-adapted in eastern chipmunks.


Mixed model Repeatability Sprint speed Personality Tamias striatus 



We thank Lucy Bellemare, Ilias Berberi, Caitlin Murphy, Hazel Panique, and Jasmine Veitch who have helped to collect the sprint speed data by acting as second observers. We thank Amy Villareal and two anonymous reviewers for comments on a previous draft of the manuscript.

Authors’ contributions

SLN and VC conceived and designed the experiment. SLN and VC gathered and analysed the data. SLN and VC wrote the manuscript.

Funding information

This research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) discovery grant and by Canada Research Chair funds to VC.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

Our protocol was approved by the University of Ottawa Animal Care Committee (protocol number: BL-2659-A1), certified by the Canadian Council on Animal Care, and licensed under the Ontario Animals for Research Act.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

265_2018_2445_MOESM1_ESM.csv (11 kb)
ESM 1 (CSV 11 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Department of Environmental and Life SciencesTrent UniversityPeterboroughCanada
  3. 3.Canada Research Chair in Functional EcologyOttawaCanada

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