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Links between personality, early natal nutrition and survival of a threatened bird

Published in: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B

Authors: Kate M. Richardson, Elizabeth H. Parlato, Leila K. Walker, Kevin A. Parker, John G. Ewen and Doug P. Armstrong


There is growing recognition that variation in animal personality traits can influence survival and reproduction rates, and consequently may be important for wildlife population dynamics.  Despite this, integration of personality research into conservation has remained uncommon. Alongside establishment of personality as an important source of individual variation has come an increasing interest in factors affecting the development of personality. Recent work indicates the early environment, including natal nutrition, may play a stronger role in the development of personality than previously thought. In this study, we investigated the importance of three personality metrics (activity, boldness, acclimation time) for estimating survival of a threatened species, the hihi (Notiomystis cincta), and evaluated the role of early natal nutrition on those metrics. Our results showed that boldness (as measured from a one-off cage test) had a positive effect on the probability of juvenile hihi surviving to adulthood. There was also a tendency for juveniles that received carotenoid supplementation in the nest to be bolder than those that did not, suggesting that the early environment had some influence on the expression of boldness in juvenile hihi. Linking the development of personality traits with ultimate effects on vital rates may benefit conservation management, as it could enable developmentally targeted management interventions. To our knowledge, this study is the first to identify potential linkages between early natal nutrition, personality and fitness in a wild-living population.

Manuscript can be accessed from here.

Written by Dr John Ewen

I have been interested and working with hihi since I was involved with establishing the Tiritiri Matangi island population through translocation in 1995. I am now employed as a Research Fellow at the Zoological Society of London and have been here since 2004. My research is multi-disciplinary and focusses on small population biology and management. I use decision science to assist in planning hihi management and drive our applied research with this species and have experience in molecular and behavioural ecology, wildlife health and nutrition and reintroduction biology.


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