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'Personality-gene' makes songbirds curious

tions according to their level of curiosity (a low and a high curiosity line). The scientists assessed the curiosity of the birds in a test which shows similarities to the traditional "open-field" test used by psychologists. They tested the exploratory behaviour of each bird soon after it left the nest (Early Exploratory Behaviour, EEB), as follows. In one behavioural test, the biologists measured the time until a bird had visited four artificial "trees" (see figure 1) after being released in the observation room. In a second test, they quantified the reaction of the bird towards each of two unknown objects that had been put in its cage. One such novel object was a pink panther (see figure 2).

The results from the group of selected birds were confirmed with data from free-living, unselected great tits. In the forest-living birds, the scientists also found a significant association between the SNP830-genotypes of individuals and variation in their level of curiosity.

"The personality trait can be an important predictor of how individuals will respond to predictable and unpredictable changes in their environment and how well they cope with these changes", explains Bart Kempenaers. "If we want to understand the ecological and evolutionary importance of variation in personality in natural, free-living animal populations, it would help a lot to know the molecular genetic mechanisms behind the trait." Typing the behavioural relevant Drd4 polymorphism it should be possible to follow micro-evolutionary changes in populations, which would result from changing selection pressures on different personality types.


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Source:Max-Planck-Gesellschaft


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