Stability in Activity and Boldness Across Time and Context in Captive Siberian Dwarf Hamsters

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Individual personality is an important source of variation in animal behavior. However, few studies have examined the reliability of individual behaviors across both time and context for even common temperament traits such as boldness, especially in mammals. We tested a laboratory colony of Siberian dwarf hamsters ( Phodopus sungorus) in two similar assays, a tunnel maze and an open field, both provisioned with a home nestbox for shelter. Animals were tested in each assay at three ages, beginning at weaning. Principal components analysis on each assay identified an axis of activity level in both tests, boldness and reactivity in the tunnel maze, and nestbox orientation in the open field. All traits were moderately (7-18%) heritable. Individual activity level was the most reliably consistent trait, both within and between tests. Tunnel maze boldness, tunnel maze reactivity, and open field nestbox orientation did not correlate at any age. Correlation between boldness and activity changes from positive to negative as animals age, while reactivity was consistently negatively associated with activity. A negative correlation emerged in adults between open field activity and nestbox orientation. These results suggest that either development or habituation results in different personality trait associations in an individual over time. Individual temperament traits such as general activity level may be quite stable, but caution should be used in generalizing single assays to represent boldness across time and across contexts.

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