The expression of animal personality is indicated by patterns of consistency in individual behaviour. Often, the differences exhibited between individuals are consistent across situations. However, between some situations, this can be biased by variable levels of individual plasticity. The interaction between individual plasticity and animal personality can be illustrated by examining situation-sensitive personality traits such as boldness (i.e. risk-taking and exploration tendency). For the weakly electric fish Gnathonemus petersii, light condition is a major factor influencing behaviour. Adapted to navigate in low-light conditions, this species chooses to be more active in dark environments where risk from visual predators is lower. However, G. petersii also exhibit individual differences in their degree of behavioural change from light to dark. The present study, therefore, aims to examine if an increase of motivation to explore in the safety of the dark, not only affects mean levels of boldness, but also the variation between individuals, as a result of differences in individual plasticity.
Boldness was consistent between a novel-object and a novel-environment situation in bright light. However, no consistency in boldness was noted between a bright (risky) and a dark (safe) novel environment. Furthermore, there was a negative association between boldness and the degree of change across novel environments, with shier individuals exhibiting greater behavioural plasticity.
This study highlights that individual plasticity can vary with personality. In addition, the effect of light suggests that variation in boldness is situation specific. Finally, there appears to be a trade-off between personality and individual plasticity with shy but plastic individuals minimizing costs when perceiving risk and bold but stable individuals consistently maximizing rewards, which can be maladaptive.