Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 5, pp 765–774 | Cite as

Behavioral type–environment correlations in the field: a study of three-spined stickleback

Original Paper


Behavioral type–environment correlations occur when specific behavioral types of individuals are more common in certain environments. Behavioral type–environment correlations can be generated by several different mechanisms that are probably very common such as niche construction and phenotypic plasticity. Moreover, behavioral type–environment correlations have important ecological and evolutionary implications. However, few studies have examined behavioral type–environment correlations in natural populations. In this study, we asked whether some behavioral types of three-spined stickleback were more likely to occur in certain social environments (alone or in a shoal with other stickleback) or in certain microhabitats in a river (in the open or under cover). We found that individuals that were in shoals with other stickleback at the time of collection from the field emerged from a refuge more quickly compared to individuals that were found alone. In addition, fish that were alone in an open microhabitat explored more of a pool compared to fish that were alone in cover, but this difference did not occur among fish that were in shoals at the time of collection. Subsequent analyses of gut contents suggested that differences in microhabitat use were consistent over time. Our study provides some of the first evidence for behavioral type–environment correlations in a natural population of non-human animals.


Personality Social environment Habitat selection Niche Refuge Exploratory behavior 



We thank RJH Pearish for assistance in the field and J Tompkins for assistance in identifying invertebrates. River’s Bend Retreat generously provided access to the Navarro River. KL Laskowski reviewed an early version of this manuscript. Comments from NJ Dingemanse and two anonymous reviewers greatly improved this manuscript.

Ethical standards

All experiments comply with the current laws of the United States and were approved by the University of Illinois Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (Protocol number 09024).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon Pearish
    • 1
  • Lauren Hostert
    • 1
  • Alison M. Bell
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Integrative BiologyUniversity of Illinois, UrbanaUrbanaUSA

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