Animal personality

Research over the last couple of decades has demonstrated the presence of individual personality across numerous species spread across the evolutionary tree of life.  The vast majority of this work has focused on documenting the presence of personalities, and much more research is needed to understand the consequences of personalities for individual, population, and community ecological processes.

Over the last several years my lab has examined the ecological consequences of variation in animal personality with populations.  Much of this work has been centered in crab populations on seashores along the southeastern United States, including fiddler crabs in marsh ecosystems and mud crabs inhabiting oyster reefs.  We have used experimentation and individual based modeling to demonstrate the importance of personality for spatial positioning of individuals within a herd and across landscapes of differing quality, as well as trophic dynamics and the strength of consumer control.

Our research on this topic moving forward continues to focus on both theoretical and applied aspects.  Recent theoretical work examines the role of animal personality on the ability of consumers to match the optimal spatial position across a landscape (i.e., the Ideal Free Distribution, see this work here).  Ongoing applied aspects of this work focus on the connection between personality and life history variation using an invasive species of crayfish in Utah streams and reservoirs.  This species cycles annually between reproductive and nonreproductive forms, and our interest is in how behavior expression differs across this life history cycle for individuals with different personalities.

Field experiment in South Carolina oyster reef to examine the consequences of bold vs. shy personality in mud crabs