CIE Spotlight: Towards powerful experimental and statistical approaches to study intraindividual variability in labile traits

David M., Ben F., Christa B. & Pete B.

David M., Ben F., Christa B. & Pete B.

Authors: David J. Mitchell, Benjamin G. Fanson, Christa Beckmann, Peter A. Biro

Source: Royal Society Open Science, 26 October 2016

Brief summary of the paper: There is a long-standing interest in behavioural ecology, exploring the causes and correlates of consistent individual differences in mean behavioural traits (‘personality’) and the response to the environment (‘plasticity’).

Recently, it has been observed that individuals also consistently differ in their residual intraindividual variability (rIIV). This variation will probably have broad biological and methodological implications to the study of trait variation in labile traits, such as behaviour and physiology, though we currently need studies to quantify variation in rIIV, using more standardized and powerful methodology.

Focusing on activity rates in guppies (Poecilia reticulata), we provide a model example, from sampling design to data analysis, in how to quantify rIIV in labile traits. Building on the doubly hierarchical generalized linear model recently used to quantify individual differences in rIIV, we extend the model to evaluate the covariance between individual mean values and their rIIV. After accounting for time-related change in behaviour, our guppies substantially differed in rIIV, and it was the active individuals that tended to be more consistent (lower rIIV).

We provide annotated data analysis code to implement these complex models, and discuss how to further generalize the model to evaluate covariances with other aspects of phenotypic variation.