Rapid divergence of animal personality and syndrome structure across an arid-aquatic habitat matrix

Abstract

Intraspecific trait variation, including animal personalities and behavioural syndromes, affects how individual animals and populations interact with their environment. Within-species behavioural variation is widespread across animal taxa, which has substantial and unexplored implications for the ecological and evolutionary processes of animals. Accordingly, we sought to investigate individual behavioural characteristics in several populations of a desert-dwelling fish, the Australian desert goby (Chlamydogobius eremius). We reared first generation offspring in a common garden to compare non-ontogenic divergence in behavioural phenotypes between genetically interconnected populations from contrasting habitats (isolated groundwater springs versus hydrologically variable river waterholes). Despite the genetic connectedness of populations, fish had divergent bold-exploratory traits associated with their source habitat. This demonstrates divergence in risk-taking traits as a rapid phenotypic response to ecological pressures in arid aquatic habitats: neophilia may be suppressed by increased predation pressure and elevated by high intraspecific competition. Correlations between personality traits also differed between spring and river fish. River populations showed correlations between dispersal and novel environment behaviours, revealing an adaptive behavioural syndrome (related to dispersal and exploration) that was not found in spring populations. This illustrates the adaptive significance of heritable behavioural variation within and between populations, and their importance to animals persisting across contrasting habitats.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre region, and we specifically appreciate the support of Reg Dodd and Dean Ah Chee.

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Correspondence to Nicholas P. Moran.

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Ethical approval

All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. Approvals and permits were granted by the Monash University Animal Ethics Committee (BSCI/2012/14, BSCI/2012/22), the South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (Q26166-1, Q25886-3) and Primary Industries and Regions SA (ME 9902391, 9902523, 9902598 and 9902599).

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This work received financial supports from the Holsworth Wildlife Endowment, the Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee and the Australian Research Council (DP120103010).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Communicated by Joel Trexler.

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Moran, N.P., Mossop, K.D., Thompson, R.M. et al. Rapid divergence of animal personality and syndrome structure across an arid-aquatic habitat matrix. Oecologia 185, 55–67 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-017-3924-2

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Keywords

  • Boldness
  • Common garden
  • Dispersal
  • Exploration
  • Temperament