Morgan David PhD thesis

Pairing strategies, social foraging and personality in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata)

Defended on the 2nd November 2011

Supervisors: Frank Cézilly and Luc-Alain Giraldeau (université du Québec à Montréal)

Started in October 2007



In ecology, several studies point out divergent behavioural tendencies between individuals of the same population, same sex or even same age. The main interest steming from these differences is their consistency through time and accross contexts. Hence, a behavioural profile is defined as a group of behaviours which are positively or negatively but significantly associated at the population level, e. g. aggressive and bold tendencies versus shy and docile ones.

The discovery and definition of the behavioural profiles, or syndromes, leads to a paradox: indeed, how to explain the maintenance of inter-individual variation and intra-individual consistency whereas natural selection should favour different behavioural optima in different contexts? Variation should be eroded by stabilizing or directional selection accross generations.

My PhD thesis project will consist first in analyzing the relationships between behavioural profiles, or personalities, and pairing strategies in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), a commonly studied bird in biology, at the University of Burgundy (Dijon, France). Reproductive success of different combinations of personalities within pairs should bring an insight into yet unknown selective pressures acting on mate choice in this species. Has a female to preferentially choose a particular mate regarding its personality? Can homogamy between members of pairs be a mechanism contributing to maintain behavioural variation in a population? Finally, these experiments should verify whether different personalities represent different coping strategies and not only residual variance surrounding an adaptive mean, in which case we should expect equal fitness between them.

Secondly, my work at the University of Quebec at Montreal (Canada) will consist in studying the roles and consequences of behavioural profiles on producer and scrounger strategies in a social foraging dynamic game. Is the tactic employed by a bird linked to any life-history trait or to its personalilty? How flexible is that behaviour in a frequency-dependent game?

Expected results are with a double meaning, i. e. clarifying the theoretical framework of the personality concept by studying its consequences and constraints on sexual and social decisions of organisms. Then, including that emergent and innovative concept into the global comprehension of behaviours dynamic at the population level to major topics in behavioural ecology: pairing strategies and social foraging.


personality, mate choice, behavioural compatibility, producer/scrounger, behavioural flexibility, fitness, monogamy