Personality and plasticity across time, space, and context in forked fungus beetles (Bolitotherus cornutus)

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Mitchem, Lisa, Biology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Brodie, Edmund, Biology, University of Virginia

Individuals experience constant fluctuations in social contexts within a breeding season and across their lifetime, and these changes can have a large effect on the expression of behaviors. Behavioral plasticity allows individuals to instantaneously adjust their phenotype to changing contexts, but behaviors are not perfectly plastic. Animal personalities and behavioral syndromes quantify the proportion of behaviors that remain consistent in response to changing cues. My dissertation research used forked fungus beetles (Bolitotherus cornutus) as a system to explore the consistency of and correlations among competition and mating behaviors across contexts. In Chapters 1-3, I showed that behavior can be both plastic and repeatable in response to changing social contexts. Mating and competition behaviors in B. cornutus had high plasticity across social contexts, but were highly repeatable within contexts. In Chapter 1, I asked about some of the causes and consequences of behaviors initiated during competition. Larger, more aggressive males were more likely to win male-male competition, while females did not act competitively towards their female partners. In Chapter 4, I examined the potential fitness consequences of male competition outcome by asking if females preferred the chemical cues of males based on their competition experience. Females preferred to associate with the chemical cues of future losing males prior to competition, but switched their preference for winning males after competition. Social context extended beyond immediate surroundings to include past experiences in my female choice trials. I expanded the idea that past experience affects current behavior in Chapter 5 by asking if age affects aggression. I determined that age explains some of the variation in expression of aggression among males. Older males were more aggressive than younger males. Overall, my dissertation research provides key first steps in understanding personalities across mating and competition contexts and shows that past experience is an important context that can affect the expression and consequences of behavior.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
animal behavior, mate choice, competition, Bolitotherus cornutus, sexual selection, animal personality, behavioral plasticity
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