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Personality and behavioral syndromes in two Peromyscus species: presence, lack of state dependence, and lack of association with home range size

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One common theme of adaptive hypotheses for the existence of stable individual differences in behavior (personality) or persistent correlations among behaviors (behavioral syndromes) is an association between intrinsic state (e.g., body size, mass, metabolism) and the behavioral traits of interest. Empiricists are tasked with assessing whether there is an association between intrinsic state and behavior, but the statistical methods to appropriately quantify the among-individual correlation between intrinsic state and behavior have only recently become widely known. We conducted a multiyear study in wild mice of two Peromyscus species (Peromyscus leucopus noveboracensis and Peromyscus maniculatus gracilis) to assess the existence of stable individual differences in four different behaviors (presence of animal personality, as assessed by quantifying repeatabilities) and one measure of intrinsic state (body mass), the degree of association between these four behaviors (presence of behavioral syndromes), and the association of these behavioral traits with body mass using multivariate methods that allowed us to estimate the within-individual (residual) component and the among-individual component. We used standardized behavioral tests to measure struggle time (time spent struggling when removed from the trap) and exploration time (time spent exploring a novel surface) and used open-field trials to measure whether or not an individual entered the open field plus the total time it spent active in the open field. In P. leucopus, we assessed whether coarse but quick methods of assessing animal personality (struggle or exploration time) correlate with behavior using more in-depth estimates obtained by open-field trials. Additionally, we tested the ecological relevance of our personality measures by assessing their association with home range size in P. leucopus. In both species, struggle time, exploration time, and body mass were significantly repeatable and there was a significant among-individual correlation between struggle time and exploration time. However, in both species, there was no evidence for an among-individual correlation between our measure of intrinsic state (body mass) and personality traits. In one species (P. leucopus), we found that individuals that spent more time struggling or exploring a novel surface were also more likely to emerge into an open field and spent more time being active in an open field, but these four behavioral measures were not associated with home range size. Our results suggest among-individual correlation among these different behaviors but no among-individual correlation between behavior and intrinsic state.

Significance statement

Over the past 15 years, it has become clear that nonhuman animals exhibit “personalities”: some individuals consistently differ in their behavior, and there is limited flexibility in their behavior when they experience environmental change. Biologists have now been searching for why and how animal personalities exist and their ecological and evolutionary consequences. Some explanations have focused on how condition or “internal state” may cause variation in animal personalities. In this study, we show that two species of wild mice exhibit personalities and that their personality traits are associated with one another, in that mice that were less docile were also more active, exploratory, and bold. We then show that their personality traits were not linked with body mass, suggesting a lack of association between internal state and personality. Our results provide important insights into the causes of personality in nonhuman animals.

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All raw data used in these analyses are available on FigShare account of Ben Dantzer (


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Thanks to Joseph Baumgartner, Abigale Bristol, Modeline Celestine, Daniel Nondorf, Mari Angel Rodriguez, and Francesca Santicchia for helping to collect some of the behavioral data. Thanks to Alisande and David Read, as well as John Russell, who allowed us to study mice on their properties, and to the staffs of the Pigeon River Country State Forest and the Seney National Wildlife Refuge for assistance with sampling. Finally, thanks to two anonymous reviewers and especially to Ned Dochtermann for comments that helped improve this manuscript.


We appreciate the funding support provided by the University of Michigan (to BD) and Miami University (to SMGH) and the logistical support provided by the University of Michigan Biological Station and University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

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Correspondence to Ben Dantzer.

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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethics approval

All of our trapping and handling procedures were approved by Animal Care and Use Committees of the University of Michigan (#PRO00009067) and Miami University (#874_2021_Mar). We acquired permission to carry out these procedures from areas owned or managed by the University of Michigan (Cheboygan and Livingston Counties), the United States National Forest Service (Chippewa and Delta Counties), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Schoolcraft County), the State of Michigan (Menominee and Otsego Counties), or private landowners (Washtenaw County). All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the use of animals were followed.

Ethical statement

All data presented are original, have not been fabricated or manipulated, and have not been published previously. All authors have made sufficient contributions to be included as authors and consent to publish the data.

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Communicated by N. A Dochtermann

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Underhill, V., Pandelis, G.G., Papuga, J. et al. Personality and behavioral syndromes in two Peromyscus species: presence, lack of state dependence, and lack of association with home range size. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 75, 9 (2021).

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