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Effects of shell size on behavioural consistency and flexibility in hermit crabs

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Animal personalities are assumed to be present when there are consistent between-individual differences in behaviour, whereas behavioural flexibility occurs when individual responses are continuously adjusted. Where both possibilities have been tested for, individuals may show both behavioural consistency and flexibility. Therefore, to gauge the importance of consistent individual differences in behaviour, it is useful to compare the strength of consistency with that of plasticity in behaviour. Here we investigate startle responses in hermit crabs (Pagurus bernhardus (L., 1758)) in high- and low-risk situations. We vary the level of risk between situations by manipulating the quality of empty gastropod shells available to the crabs. Comparison of statistical effect size estimates for tests of concordance and difference between situations reveals a strong pattern of consistent between-individual differences in behaviour in comparison to a statistically significant but reactively weak pattern of behavioural flexibility. Although the startle duration varied, on average, in crabs from different sites, this was mainly due to different responses during an in situ phase of the experiment.

Lorsqu’il existe des différences stables de comportement entre des individus, on assume qu’il s’agit de personnalités animales, alors que, quand les réactions individuelles sont constamment ajustées, on parle de flexibilité comportementale. Lorsqu’on teste ces deux possibilités chez des individus, ceux-ci peuvent présenter à la fois de la stabilité et de la flexibilité comportementales. C’est pourquoi, pour évaluer l’importance des différences individuelles stables de comportement, il est utile de comparer la force de la stabilité et celle de la plasticité dans le comportement. Nous étudions ici les réactions d’étonnement de bernard-l’ermite (Pagurus bernhardus (L., 1758)) dans des conditions de risque bas et élevé. Nous faisons varier le niveau de risque entre les situations en manipulant la qualité des coquilles vides de gastéropodes disponibles aux crabes. Une comparaison des estimations statistiques de l’importance de l’effet dans les tests de concordance et de différence en fonction des situations indique un fort patron de différences stables de comportement entre les individus; en comparaison, le patron de flexibilité du comportement est statistiquement significatif, mais de faible intensité. Bien que la durée du comportement d’étonnement varie en moyenne chez les crabes aux différents sites, cela peut s’expliquer en grande partie par des réactions durant une phase in situ de l’expérience.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-07-01

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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