by Matt Dula (CLAS ’18 Biology), Dec. 2016
One major question in the field of behavioral ecology that really interests me is the potential link between dominance and personality. Although several studies have shown possible links between personality and dominance, few studies have been performed in wild populations. Devost et al. (2016) recently explored this link in a wild population of Black-capped Chickadees near the cities of Ottawa, Ontario, and Gatineau, Quebec. They studied the connection between social dominance and three personality traits: exploration, activity, and neophilia. They predicted that dominant birds would be more likely to exhibit increased exploratory, active, and neophilic behaviors than subordinates. However, no significant relation was found between any of the three traits and social dominance. Also, none of the three personality traits were significantly related with age, sex, body condition, or wing length.
Devost et al. captured wild Black-capped Chickadees in the fall and performed personality tests in a cage in the field. The researchers tested exploratory behavior by observing the time the bird took to visit all four corner perches in the cage. After ten minutes, the researchers recorded all movements such as hops and flights to determine activity. Devost et al. tested neophilia by placing a small pink box in the cage and recording the time it took the bird to come within one body length of the box. They determined dominance by observing social interactions of chickadees at feeders. The researchers based dominance on how many social interactions a bird won against another bird. Winning an interaction was defined as chasing the other bird, resisting an attack, or eliciting a submissive response from the second bird. None of these three behavioral traits had a significant relationship with dominance. The only correlation this study found was between bird sex and dominance, where males were more dominant than females, which was not a novel finding and was expect.
Although this study did not find a link between behavior and dominance, it still has major implications in behavioral ecology.
Devost, I., Jones, T.B., Cauchoix, M., Montreuil-Spencer, C., and Morand-Ferron, J. 2016. Personality does not predict social dominance in wild groups of Black-capped Chickadees. Animal Behaviour 122, 67–76