Animal personality may aid survival
James Cook University scientists believe animal personality types may be a factor in their survival as tropical rainforests come under threat.
Recently, researchers have begun to understand that animals have distinct personality types, even within the same species and family. A new JCU study is the one of the first to examine this in terms of animals adapting to environmental change in tropical rainforests.
JCU’s Dr Tasmin Rymer said there is a link between psychology and ethology – the study of animal behaviour. “For a long time people used to think individuals of a species all acted the same. But there are noticeable differences between individuals.”
She said animals could be broadly classed as bold and proactive or shy and reactive. “Some people will happily go and bungee jump and take risks, while others won’t expose themselves like that. But while bold animals are more likely to explore and find new resources than shy animals, they might also put themselves at more risk from predators.”
Dr Rymer said personality was largely settled by adulthood, and could potentially be determined in individual animals by measuring the concentrations of various hormones, such as corticosterone, found in their blood.
Dr Rymer said it was hard to predict what animals were best suited for survival in threatened tropical rainforests. “That’s the million dollar question. The complex nature of tropical rainforests suggests bold individuals might do better, but that may not always be the case.”
A new paper by Dr Rymer and her colleagues suggests that some shy animals may respond better to change because their reactive nature is more strongly guided by the changing environment.
The researchers said complex habitats, such as rainforests, made for more complex personalities than simple grassland habitats, but there was an almost complete lack of behavioural studies on rainforest animals.
“Study in this area has implications for relocating animals and judging impacts on environments. We could do it more effectively if we could target better for personality,” said Dr Rymer.