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Predation and parasitism as determinants of animal personalities

Cite this dataset

Dubois, Frédérique; Binning, Sandra A (2022). Predation and parasitism as determinants of animal personalities [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Within the same population, proactive (i.e. bolder, more exploratory, active and aggressive) and reactive (i.e. more timid, less exploratory, less active and more passive) individuals could be hypothetically maintained due a trade-off between foraging and anti-predator behaviour, provided that both phenotypes differ in their state (e.g. metabolic rates, body condition or energetic needs).

2. Yet, recent findings indicate that among-individual variation in intrinsic state can explain only a small proportion of variation in behaviour, meaning that other mechanisms, such as the presence of trophically transmitted parasites, might contribute to maintaining inter-individual behavioural differences. Empirical evidence, indeed, suggests strong relationships between certain animal personality traits and parasitic load within host populations. However, the direction of causation between these traits remains unclear: are different behaviours in infected hosts in contrast to uninfected ones the result of manipulation by parasites to increase host predation, or are some personalities inherently more susceptible to infection than others?

3. To better understand the role of parasites in shaping behavioural differences within host populations and examine to what extent parasite manipulation and/or intrinsic differences in parasite susceptibility contribute to maintaining behavioural differences, we used a simulation approach and analyzed the change in the frequencies of proactive and reactive individuals over time under different predation and starvation scenarios, when individual phenotype either affected a host’s risk of infection or not.

4. We found that in the absence of parasites, predation pressure strongly affected the expression of host personality, but trade-offs between foraging and anti-predator behaviour alone could not explain the maintenance of inter-individual behavioural differences without temporal variation in predation pressure. By contrast, in the presence of parasites, the two host phenotypes could coexist within populations even when individuals experienced no temporal variations in predation risk, but only when proactive and reactive hosts were equally susceptible to parasitism.

5. Our findings thus indicate that parasites can play an important role in maintaining genetic diversity in their host populations in addition to generating behavioural differences though manipulation.


The simulation codes were written in C++.


Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council