When aggressiveness could be too risky: linking personality traits and predator response in superb fairy-wrens

Jack Bilby, Diane Colombelli-Négrel, Andrew C. Katsis, Sonia Kleindorfer

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Personality syndromes in animals may have adaptive benefits for survival. For example, while engaging in predator deterrence, reactive individuals tend to prioritise their own survival, while proactive individuals engage in riskier behaviours. Studies linking animal personality measured in captivity with individual fitness or behaviours in the wild are sparse, which is a gap in knowledge this study aims to address. We used playback experiments in superb fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus), a common Australian songbird with a cooperative breeding system, to assess whether three personality traits measured during short-term captivity correlated with behavioural responses in the wild to a perceived nest and adult predator, the grey currawong (Strepera versicolor). We used three standard measures of personality in birds: struggle responses to human handling (boldness), exploration during a novel environment test, and aggressiveness during a mirror presentation. Superb fairy-wrens showed a significantly stronger response to the predator playback than to the control (willie wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys) playback, suggesting that they recognised the predator playback as a threat without any accompanying visual stimulus. Birds that attacked their mirror image during the mirror presentation and those that spent a moderate amount of time close to the mirror responded more strongly to predator playback (by approaching the speaker faster and closer, spending more time near the speaker, and being more likely to alarm call) compared to those with low aggressiveness or those that spent very short or long durations close to the mirror. Neither boldness nor exploration in the novel environment test predicted playback response. Our results align with a growing number of studies across species showing the importance of animal personalities as factors for fitness and survival.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14011
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2022


  • Anti-predator behaviour
  • Malurus
  • Personality
  • Risk-taking


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