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Food availability and environment mediate personality traits of “shy” snails

Food availability and environment mediate personality traits of “shy” snails

Christopher Goodchild

Integrative Biology

The animal personality hypothesis predicts that animals have limited behavioral plasticity, leading to consistent among-individual differences in behavioral responses. Previous work suggests that animal personality has broad implications for a suite of inter and intra-specific interactions. However, it remains unclear how external factors (e.g., food availability) and habituation contribute to the development and maintenance of distinct personalities (e.g., shy or bold). In this study, we examined the plasticity of two behaviors (i.e., boldness and exploration) in a freshwater snail (Helisoma trivolvis). We manipulated food availability and environment, and thereby investigated (1) whether behaviors were dependent on food availability and (2) whether individuals repeatedly exposed to a novel environment expressed their initial shy behaviors in a new novel environment. To do so, we measured latency to emerge from shell to assign snails to bold or shy personality types. We then measured latency to emerge from shell (i.e., boldness) and activity in a novel environment (i.e., exploration) in snails after 0, 7, and 14 d of ad lib or restricted feeding. At 15 d we measured latency to emerge in a new novel environment. We found that food-limited snails do not have repeatable behaviors, whereas snails fed ad lib did express repeatable behaviors (i.e., personality). Regardless of food treatment, latency to emerge decreased after 14 d in all snails (i.e., snails became more bold), but introduction to a novel environment on day 15 caused snails to return to shy behaviors. These data suggest that (1) food-availability is an important factor in the maintenance of personality types, and (2) although individuals may habituate to environments, personality traits are retained when introduced to a novel environment.