Integrating animal temperament within ecology and evolution

Denis Réale, Simon M. Reader, Daniel Sol, Peter T. McDougall, Niels J. Dingemanse

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

    2246 Citations (Scopus)


    Temperament describes the idea that individual behavioural differences are repeatable over time and across situations. This common phenomenon covers numerous traits, such as aggressiveness, avoidance of novelty, willingness to take risks, exploration, and sociality. The study of temperament is central to animal psychology, behavioural genetics, pharmacology, and animal husbandry, but relatively few studies have examined the ecology and evolution of temperament traits. This situation is surprising, given that temperament is likely to exert an important influence on many aspects of animal ecology and evolution, and that individual variation in temperament appears to be pervasive amongst animal species. Possible explanations for this neglect of temperament include a perceived irrelevance, an insufficient understanding of the link between temperament traits and fitness, and a lack of coherence in terminology with similar traits often given different names, or different traits given the same name. We propose that temperament can and should be studied within an evolutionary ecology framework and provide a terminology that could be used as a working tool for ecological studies of temperament. Our terminology includes five major temperament trait categories: shyness-boldness, exploration- avoidance, activity, sociability and aggressiveness. This terminology does not make inferences regarding underlying dispositions or psychological processes, which may have restrained ecologists and evolutionary biologists from working on these traits. We present extensive literature reviews that demonstrate that temperament traits are heritable, and linked to fitness and to several other traits of importance to ecology and evolution. Furthermore, we describe ecologically relevant measurement methods and point to several ecological and evolutionary topics that would benefit from considering temperament, such as phenotypic plasticity, conservation biology, population sampling, and invasion biology. © 2007 Cambridge Philosophical Society.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)291-318
    JournalBiological Reviews
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2007


    • Aggressiveness
    • Behavioural syndromes
    • Context-specificity
    • Coping styles
    • Exploration
    • Individual differences
    • Personality
    • Shyness-boldness
    • Sociability
    • Temperament


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