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Individual variation in habituation: behaviour over time toward different stimuli in threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus)

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Habituation, or the relatively permanent waning of a response as a result of repeated stimulation, is a form of behavioural plasticity that allows animals to filter out irrelevant stimuli and to focus selectively on important stimuli. Individuals that fail to habituate might be at a disadvantage if they continue to respond to irrelevant stimuli; therefore, habituation can have adaptive significance. In this study we compared rates of behaviour over time toward three different ecologically-relevant stimuli (food, a male intruder and a gravid female) in threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus). We detected evidence for habituation to the stimuli, and males in this study were especially aggressive toward both male and female conspecifics. Although there were some clear temporal patterns that could be detected by looking at average behaviour, not all individuals behaved in the same ‘average’ way. We detected substantial inter-individual variation in behaviour toward all three stimuli, inter-individual variation in rates of habituation to both male and female conspecifics, but no evidence for correlations between behaviours across stimuli (behavioural syndromes). These results suggest that individual animals vary in rates of habituation, and prompt hypotheses about the causes and consequences of variation in rates of habituation.

Affiliations: 1: aIntegrative Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 505 S. Goodwin Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801, USA


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