The evolutionary ecology of personality and life history variation in an anthropogenic heterogeneous landscape

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O'Shea, William
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University College Cork
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Animals exhibit consistent individual differences in behaviour, or personality, which may be heritable, linked to fitness and thus subject to natural selection. The fitness consequences of personality can vary according to environmental conditions, but the ecological mechanisms underlying such variation are often unclear. Taking a top down approach, this thesis explores the functional significance and fitness consequences of exploration behaviour (EB), a personality trait measured in captivity, amongst wild great tit (Parus major) populations inhabiting coniferous and deciduous woodland fragments. Over three years, the breeding ecology of great tits was recorded in nest-boxes across eight woodland fragments in Western Co. Cork. Although deciduous woodland is assumed to be optimal breeding habitat for great tits, in this system, pairs breeding in coniferous habitat laid larger clutches and experienced higher reproductive success. This may be linked to the higher breeding densities and thus competition in deciduous, compared to coniferous sites. In winter, great tits forage in flocks where competitive individuals have greater access to resources. Competitiveness may be linked to individual EB and cognitive abilities. This hypothesis was tested experimentally in captivity. There was no link between competitiveness and EB; however individuals that were less competitive were more likely to solve a novel foraging task, suggesting that innovative behaviours may allow less competitive individuals access to alternative resources in a social context. Parental care is another functional behaviour that may link individual personality and fitness. During the breeding season there was no relationship between EB and nest-defence behaviours; however faster-exploring females provisioned nestlings at lower rates than slower-explorers, subsequently experiencing lower reproductive success. Amongst males, faster-explorers produced offspring of better quality in coniferous habitat, but in deciduous habitat the opposite was true. This thesis elucidates several pathways through which individual behavioural variation can influence fitness and shows that these effects may vary according to environmental conditions.
Personality , Fragmentation , Cognition , Phenology , Local adaptation , Evolutionary ecology
O'Shea, W. 2017. The evolutionary ecology of personality and life history variation in an anthropogenic heterogeneous landscape. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.