How does parental personality influence offspring quality in animals?


  • A. Chira University of Sheffield, Animal and Plant Science Department Western Bank, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S10 2TN, United Kingdom



Behaviour ecology has become a popular research area, and its importance in understanding the evolution, ecology and diversity of life on Earth is now fully recognised. More recently, consistent differences between individuals (including personality trait


Behaviour ecology has become a popular research area, and its importance in understanding the evolution, ecology and diversity of life on Earth is now fully recognised. More recently, consistent differences between individuals (including personality traits) have become the target of animal studies, and such differences have been reported in a wide range of invertebrate and vertebrate taxa. The study of animal personality has expanded in the last decade, and it now benefits from a clear theoretical framework, supported by empirical evidence. Many studies report that personality traits influence individual fitness, but it is not clear how and why this happens. The present review explores this gap in the current knowledge and provides a comprehensive perspective of the main arguments put forward to explain why individuals’ personality traits influence their fitness. Specifically, I investigate (a) how is personality associated with life-history and reproductive investment, (b) how personality traits can represent the basis of mate choice, and what are the implications of assortative mating based on personality, and (c) how personality can impact the amplitude and outcomes of intra-familial conflicts. Additionally, I aim to identify the main knowledge gaps on the subject and provide some general guidelines for future theoretical and empirical work, and also briefly highlight the broad impacts that personality research has for evolutionary biology and ecology, as well as for applied conservation. 

Author Biography

A. Chira, University of Sheffield, Animal and Plant Science Department Western Bank, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S10 2TN, United Kingdom

Animal and Plant Science Department Western Bank


Alcock, J. (2009) Animal Behaviour (9th ed.). Sunderland, Massachusetts, Sinauer Associates. Andersson M., Waldeck P. 2006. Reproductive tactics under severe egg predation: an eider's dilemma. Oecologia, 148(2): 350-355. DOI: 10.1007/s00442-006-0374-7Aplin L.M., Farine D.R., Morand‐Ferron J., Cole E.F., Cockburn A., Sheldon B.C., 2013. Individual personalities predict social behaviour in wild networks of great tits (Parus major). Ecology letters, 16(11): 1365-1372. DOI: 10.1111/ele.12181Ariyomo T.O. Watt P., 2012. The effect of variation in boldness and aggressiveness on the reproductive success of zebrafish. Animal Behaviour, 83(1): 41-46. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.10.004Ariyomo T.O., 2013. Personality traits of the zebrafish, Danio rerio, and the guppy, Poecilia reticulate. PhD thesis.Ariyomo T.O, Watt P.J., 2013. Disassortative mating for boldness decreases reproductive success in the guppy. Behavioral Ecology, 24(6): 1320-1326. DOI: 10.1093/beheco/art070Ariyomo T.O., Carter M., Watt P.J., 2013. Heritability of Boldness and Aggressiveness in the Zebrafish. Behavior genetics, 43(2): 161-167. DOI: 10.1007/s10519-013-9585-yBearhop S., Fiedler W., Furness R.W., Votier S.C., Waldron S., Newton J., Bowen G.J., Berthold P., Farnsworth K., 2005. Assortative mating as a mechanism for rapid evolution of a migratory divide. Science, 310(5747): 502-504. DOI: 10.1126/science.1115661Bell A.M., Hankison S.J., Laskowski K.L., 2009. The repeatability of behaviour: a meta-analysis. Animal Behaviour, 77(4): 771-783. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2008.12.022Bennett P.M., Owens I.P., 2002. 'Patterns of covariation between life-history traits'. In: Bennett P.M., Owens I.P. Evolutionary ecology of birds. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 34-49.Benus R.F., Röndigs M., 1996. Patterns of maternal effort in mouse lines bidirectionally selected for aggression. Animal Behaviour, 51(1): 67-75. DOI: 10.1006/anbe.1996.0006Bergmüller, R., Schürch, R., and Hamilton, I. M. 2010. Evolutionary causes and consequences of consistent individual variation in cooperative behaviour. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365: 2751-2764.Betini G.S., Norris D.R., 2012. The relationship between personality and plasticity in tree swallow aggression and the consequences for reproductive success. Animal Behaviour, 83(1): 137-143.Biro P.A., Stamps J.A., 2008. Are animal personality traits linked to life-history productivity? Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 23(7): 361-368. DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2008.04.003Blancher P.J., Robertson R.J., 1982. Kingbird aggression: does it deter predation? Animal Behaviour, 30(3): 929-930. DOI: 10.1016/S0003-3472(82)80167-XBortolotti G.R., González L.M., Margalida A., Sánchez R., Oria J., 2008. Positive assortative pairing by plumage colour in Spanish imperial eagles. Behavioural processes, 78(1): 100-107. DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2008.01.007Both C., Dingemanse N.J., Drent P.J., Tinbergen J.M., 2005. Pairs of extreme avian personalities have highest reproductive success. Journal of Animal Ecology, 74(4): 667-674. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2005.00962.xBrodin T., Lind M.I., Wiberg M.K., Johansson F., 2013. Personality trait differences between mainland and island populations in the common frog (Ranatemporaria). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 67(1): 135-143. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-012-1433-1Budaev S.V., 1997. Alternative styles in the European wrasse, Symphodus ocellatus: boldness-related schooling tendency. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 49(1): 71-78. DOI: 10.1023/A:1007380212475Budaev S.V., Zworykin D.D., Mochek A.D., 1999. Individual differences in parental care and behaviour profile in the convict cichlid: a correlation study. Animal Behaviour, 58(1): 195-202. DOI: 10.1006/anbe.1999.1124Burley N., 1983. The meaning of assortative mating. Ethology and Sociobiology, 4(4): 191-203. DOI: 10.1016/0162-3095(83)90009-2Burtka J.L., Grindstaff J.L., 2013. Repeatable nest defense behavior in a wild population of Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) as evidence of personality. Acta ethologica, 16(3): 135-146. DOI: 10.1007/s10211-013-0143-7Carere C., Drent P.J., Koolhaas J.M., Groothuis T.G., 2005. Epigenetic effects on personality traits: early food provisioning and sibling competition. Behaviour, 142(9-10): 1329-1356. DOI: 10.1163/156853905774539328Carrillo J., Aparicio J.M., 2001. Nest defence behaviour of the Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) against human predators. Ethology, 107(10): 865-875. DOI: 10.1046/j.1439-0310.2001.00718.xCarter, A. J., English, S., and Clutton‐Brock, T. H. (2014). Cooperative personalities and social niche specialization in female meerkats. Journal of evolutionary biology, 27(5): 815-825. DOI: 10.1111/jeb.12358Dahlbom S.J., Lagman D., Lundstedt-Enkel K., Sundström L.F., Winberg S., 2011. Boldness predicts social status in zebrafish (Danio rerio). PloS one, 6(8): 1-7. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023565Dall S.R., Houston A.I., McNamara J.M., 2004. The behavioural ecology of personality: consistent individual differences from an adaptive perspective. Ecology letters, 7(8): 734-739. DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2004.00618.xDall S.R., Bell A.M., Bolnick D.I., Ratnieks F.L., 2012: An evolutionary ecology of individual differences. Ecology letters, 15(10): 1189-98. DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2012.01846.xDingemanse N.J., Both C., van Noordwijk A.J., Rutten A.L., Drent P.J., 2003. Natal dispersal and personalities in great tits (Parus major). Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 270(1516): 741-747. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2002.2300Dingemanse N.J., Both C., Drent P.J., Tinbergen J.M., 2004. Fitness consequences of avian personalities in a fluctuating environment. ProcBiol Sci., 271(1542): 847–852. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2680Dingemanse N.J., Réale D., 2005. Natural selection and animal personality. Behaviour, 142(9-10): 9-10.Dingemanse N.J. Wolf M., 2013. Between-individual differences in behavioural plasticity within populations: causes and consequences. Animal Behaviour, 85(5): 1031-1039. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2012.12.032Drent P.J., van Oers K., van Noordwijk A.J., 2003. Realized heritability of personalities in the great tit (Parus major). Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 270(1510): 45-51. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2002.2168Duckworth R.A., 2006. Behavioral correlations across breeding contexts provide a mechanism for a cost of aggression. Behavioral Ecology, 17(6): 1011-1019. DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arl035Dugatkin L.A., 1992. Tendency to inspect predators predicts mortality risk in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata). Behavioral Ecology, 3(2): 124-127. DOI: 10.1093/beheco/3.2.124Gabriel P.O., Black J.M., 2012. Behavioural syndromes, partner compatibility and reproductive performance in Steller's jays. Ethology, 118(1): 76-86. DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2011.01990.xGabriel P.O., Black J.M., 2013. Correlates and Consequences of the Pair Bond in Steller's Jays. Ethology, 119(2): 178-187. DOI: 10.1111/eth.12051Gleason E.D., Holschbach M.A., Marler C.A., 2012. Compatibility drives female preference and reproductive success in the monogamous California mouse (Peromyscus californicus) more strongly than male testosterone measures. Hormones and behavior, 61(1): 100-107. DOI: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.10.009Godin J.G., Dugatkin L.A., 1996. Female mating preference for bold males in the guppy, Poecilia reticulata. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 93(19): 10262-10267. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.93.19.10262Griggio M., Hoi H., 2011. An experiment on the function of the long-term pair bond period in the socially monogamous bearded reedling. Animal Behaviour, 82(6): 1329-1335. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.09.016Groothuis T.G., Carere C., 2005. Avian personalities: characterization and epigenesis. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 29(1): 137-150. DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2004.06.010Hager R., Johnstone R.A., 2006. The influence of phenotypic and genetic effects on maternal provisioning and offspring weight gain in mice. Biology letters, 2(1): 81-84. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2005.0403Herborn K.A., Macleod R., Miles W.T., Schofield A.N., Alexander L., Arnold K.E., 2010. Personality in captivity reflects personality in the wild. Animal Behaviour, 79(4): 835-843. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.12.026Hollander F.A., van Overveld T., Tokka I., Matthysen E., 2008. Personality and nest defence in the great tit (Parus major). Ethology, 114(4): 405-412. DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2008.01488.xHyman J., Myers R., Krippel J., 2013. Personality influences alarm calling behaviour in song sparrows. Behaviour, 150(9-10): 1147-1164.Jiang Y., Bolnick D.I., Kirkpatrick M., 2013. Assortative Mating in Animals. The American Naturalist, 181(6): 125-138. DOI: 10.1086/670160Hendrichsen D.K., Christiansen P., Nielsen E.K., Dabelsteen T., Sunde P., 2006: Exposure affects the risk of an owl being mobbed–experimental evidence. Journal of Avian Biology, 37(1): 13-18. DOI: 10.1111/j.2005.0908-8857.03658.xKontiainen P., Pietiäinen H., Huttunen K., Karell P., Kolunen H., Brommer J.E., 2009. Aggressive Ural owl mothers recruit more offspring. Behavioral Ecology, 20(4): 789-796. DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arp062Kralj-Fišer S., Mostajo G.A.S., Preik O., Pekár S., Schneider J.M., 2013. Assortative mating by aggressiveness type in orb weaving spiders. Behavioral Ecology, 24(4): 824-831. DOI: 10.1093/beheco/art030Mariette M.M. Griffith S.C., 2012. Nest visit synchrony is high and correlates with reproductive success in the wild Zebra finch Taeniopygiaguttata. Journal of Avian Biology, 43(2): 131-140. DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-048X.2012.05555.xMarkman S., Yom-Tov Y., Wright J., 1995. Male parental care in the orange-tufted sunbird: behavioural adjustments in provisioning and nest guarding effort. Animal Behaviour, 50(3): 655-669. DOI: 10.1016/0003-3472(95)80127-8Martin C.H., 2013. Strong assortative mating by diet, colour, size, and morphology but limited progress toward sympatric speciation in a classic example: Cameroon crater lake cichlids. Evolution, 67(7): 2114-2123. DOI: 10.1111/evo.12090McGlothlin J.W., Jawor J.M., Ketterson E.D., 2007. Natural variation in a testosterone‐mediated trade‐off between mating effort and parental effort.The American Naturalist, 170(6): 864-875. DOI: 10.1086/522838Mutzel A., Dingemanse N.J., Araya-Ajoy Y.G., Kempenaers B., 2013. Parental provisioning behaviour plays a key role in linking personality with reproductive success. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280(1764): 1-9.Patrick S.C., Browning L.E., 2011. Exploration behaviour is not associated with chick provisioning in great tits. PloS one, 6(10): 1-7. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026383Pike T.W., Samanta M., Lindström J., Royle N.J., 2008. Behavioural phenotype affects social interactions in an animal network. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 275(1650): 2515-2520. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0744Pryke S.R., Griffith S.C., 2007. The relative role of male vs. female mate choice in maintaining assortative pairing among discrete colour morphs. Journal of evolutionary biology, 20(4): 1512-1521. DOI: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2007.01332.xQuinn J.L., Cole E.F., Bates J., Payne R.W., Cresswell W., 2012. Personality predicts individual responsiveness to the risks of starvation and predation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1735): 1919-1926. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.2227Raihani N.J., Nelson‐Flower M.J., Moyes K., Browning L.E., Ridley A.R., 2010. Synchronous provisioning increases brood survival in cooperatively breeding pied babblers. Journal of Animal Ecology, 79(1): 44-52. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2009.01606.xRandler C., 2013. Alarm calls of the Cyprus Wheatear Oenanthe cypriaca - one for nest defence, one for parent-offspring communication? Actaethologica, 16(2): 91-96. DOI: 10.1007/s10211-012-0141-1Réale D., Gallant B.Y., Leblanc M., Festa-Bianchet M., 2000. Consistency of temperament in bighorn ewes and correlates with behaviour and life history. Animal Behaviour, 60(5): 589-597. DOI: 10.1006/anbe.2000.1530Réale D., Reader S.M., Sol D., McDougall P.T., Dingemanse N.J., 2007. Integrating animal temperament within ecology and evolution. Biological Reviews, 82(2): 291-318. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2007.00010.xRéale D., Garant D., Humphries M.M., Bergeron P., Careau V., Montiglio P.O., 2010. Personality and the emergence of the pace-of-life syndrome concept at the population level. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365(1560): 4051-4063. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0208Rodgers C., Neff B.D., Knapp R., 2013. Androgen-mediated nurturing and aggressive behaviors during paternal care in bluegill sunfish (Lepomisma crochirus). Hormones and behavior. 63(3): 454-461. DOI: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2012.12.008Roulin A., Dreiss A.N., Kölliker M., 2010. Evolutionary perspective on the interplay between family life, and parent and offspring personality. Ethology, 116(9): 787-796.Royle N.J., Schuett W., Dall S.R., 2010. Behavioral consistency and the resolution of sexual conflict over parental investment. Behavioral Ecology, 21(6): 1125-1130. DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arq156Ryan K.K., Altmann J., 2001. Selection for male choice based primarily on mate compatibility in the oldfield mouse, Peromyscus polionotus rhoadsi. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 50(5): 436-440. DOI: 10.1007/s002650100385Schuett W., Tregenza T., Dall S.R., 2010. Sexual selection and animal personality. Biological Reviews, 85(2): 217-246. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2009.00101.xSchuett W., Godin J.G.J., Dall S.R., 2011a. Do female zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, choose their mates based on their 'personality'? Ethology, 117(10): 908-917. DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2011.01945.xSchuett W., Dall S.R.X., Royle N.J., 2011b. Pairs of zebra finches with similar 'personalities' make better parents. Animal Behaviour, 81(3): 609-618. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.12.006Schuett W., Dall S.R., Wilson A.J., Royle N.J., 2013. Environmental transmission of a personality trait: foster parent exploration behaviour predicts offspring exploration behaviour in zebra finches. Biology letters, 9(4): 1-6. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0120Schwagmeyer P.L. Mock D.W., 2008. Parental provisioning and offspring fitness: size matters. Animal Behaviour, 75(1): 291-298. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2007.05.023Shen S.F., Chen H.C., Vehrencamp S.L., Yuan H.W., 2010. Group provisioning limits sharing conflict among nestlings in joint-nesting Taiwan yuhinas. Biology letters, 6(3): 318-321. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0909Sih A., Bell A. Johnson J.C., 2004a. Behavioral syndromes: an ecological and evolutionary overview. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 19(7): 372-378. DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2004.04.009Sih A., Bell A.M., Johnson J.C., Ziemba R.E., 2004b. Behavioral syndromes: an integrative overview. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 79(3): 241-277. DOI: 10.1086/422893Sih A. Bell A.M., 2008. Insights for behavioral ecology from behavioral syndromes. Advances in the Study of Behavior, 38: 227-281. DOI: 10.1016/S0065-3454(08)00005-3Sih A., Cote J., Evans M., Fogarty S., Pruitt J., 2012. Ecological implications of behavioural syndromes. Ecology letters, 15(3): 278-289. DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2011.01731.xSinn D.L., Apiolaza L.A., Moltschaniwskyi N.A., 2006. Heritability and fitness-related consequences of squid personality trait. J Evol. Biol., 19(5): 1437-1447. DOI: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2006.01136.xSmith B.R., Blumstein D.T., 2008. Fitness consequences of personality: a meta-analysis. Behavioral Ecology, 19(2): 448-455. DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arm144Spoon T.R., Millam J.R., Owings D.H., 2006. The importance of mate behavioural compatibility in parenting and reproductive success by cockatiels, Nymphicus hollandicus. Animal Behaviour, 71(2): 315-326. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2005.03.034Spoon T.R., Millam J.R., Owings D.H., 2007. Behavioural compatibility, extrapair copulation and mate switching in a socially monogamous parrot. Animal behaviour, 73(5): 815-824. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2006.10.010Stamps J.A., 2007. Growth‐mortality tradeoffs and 'personality traits' in animals. Ecology Letters, 10(5): 355-363. DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2007.01034.xStamps J., Groothuis T.G., 2010. The development of animal personality: relevance, concepts and perspectives. Biological Reviews, 85(2): 301-325. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2009.00103.xStapley J., Keogh J.S., 2005. Behavioral syndromes influence mating systems: floater pairs of a lizard have heavier offspring. Behavioural Ecology, 16(3): 514-520. DOI: 10.1093/beheco/ari019van Overveld T., Matthysen E., 2010. Personality predicts spatial responses to food manipulations in free-ranging great tits (Parus major). Biology letters, 6(2): 187-190. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0764van Rooij E.P., Griffith S.C., 2013. Synchronised provisioning at the nest: parental coordination over care in a socially monogamous species. PeerJ, 1(232): 1-14.Verbeek M.E., Drent P.J., Wiepkema P.R., 1994. Consistent individual differences in early exploratory behaviour of male great tits. Animal Behaviour, 48(5): 1113-1121. DOI: 10.1006/anbe.1994.1344Weidinger K., 2002. Interactive effects of concealment, parental behaviour and predators on the survival of open passerine nests. Journal of Animal Ecology, 71(3): 424-437. DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2656.2002.00611.xWestneat D.F., Hatch M.I., Wetzel D.P., Ensminger A.L., 2011. Individual variation in parental care reaction norms: integration of personality and plasticity. The American Naturalist, 178(5): 652-667. DOI: 10.1086/662173Wolf M., van Doorn G.S., Leimar O., Weissing F.J., 2007. Life-history trade-offs favour the evolution of animal personalities. Nature, 447(7144): 581-584. DOI: 10.1038/nature05835Wolf, M., and Weissing, F. J. (2010). An explanatory framework for adaptive personality differences. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365(1560): 3959-3968. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0215






Review article