CIE Spotlight: Is behavioural plasticity consistent across different environmental gradients and through time?

Authors: David Mitchell, Peter Biro

Source: Proceedings of The Royal Society B: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0893

Brief summary of the paperDespite accumulating evidence for individual variation in behavioural plasticity, there is currently little understanding of the causes and consequences of this variation. An outstanding question is whether individual reaction norm (RN) slopes are consistent across different environmental variables—that is, whether an individual that is highly responsive to one environmental variable will be equally responsive to a second variable. Another important and related question is whether RNs are themselves consistently expressed through time or whether they are simply state dependent.

Here, we quantified individual activity rates of zebrafish in response to independent manipulations of temperature and food availability that were repeated in discrete ‘bursts’ of sampling through time. Individuals that were thermally responsive were not more responsive to food deprivation, but they did exhibit greater unexplained variation. Individual RN slopes were consistent (repeatable) over time for both temperature (Rslope = 0.92) and food deprivation responses (Rslope = 0.4), as were mean activity rates in the standard environment (Rintercept = 0.83). Despite the high potential lability of behaviour, we have demonstrated consistency of behavioural RN components and identified potential energetic constraints leading to high consistency of thermal RNs and low consistency of food deprivation RNs.