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1. The expression of individual behaviour as a function of environmental variation (behavioural plasticity) is recognised as a means for animals to modify their phenotypes in response to changing conditions. Plasticity has been studied extensively in recent years, leading to an accumulation of evidence for behavioural plasticity within natural populations.

2. Despite the recent attention given to studying individual variation in behavioural plasticity, there is still a lack of consensus regarding its causes and constraints. One pressing question related to this is whether individual plasticity carries over across temporal and environmental gradients. That is, are some individuals more plastic (responsive) than others in general?

3. Here, we examined the influence of temporal and environmental gradients on individual behavioural responses in a marine gastropod, Littoraria irrorata. We measured individual boldness repeatedly over time and in response to tidal cycle (high vs low, an index of risk) and daily temperature fluctuations (known to affect metabolism), in a controlled field experiment.

4. On average, boldness increased from high to low tide and with increasing temperature but decreased marginally over time. Individuals also differed in their responses to variation in tide and temperature, but not over time. Those that were relatively bold at high tide (when predation risk is greater) were similarly bold at low tide, whereas shy individuals became much more ‘bold’ at low tide. Most notably, individuals that were more responsive to tide (and thus risk) were also more responsive to temperature changes, indicating that plasticity was correlated across contexts (r = 0.57) and that bolder individuals were least plastic overall.

5. This study provides a rare and possibly first example of consistency of individual behavioural plasticity across contexts, suggesting underlying physiology as a common mechanism, and raises the possibility of correlational selection on plasticity.


  • animal personality, behavioural plasticity, boldness, linear mixed model, Littoraria irrorata, reaction norm, state-behaviour feedback.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-520
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number4
Early online date5 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2019

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