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Open Access Research article

Consistency in boldness, activity and exploration at different stages of life

Antje Herde12* and Jana A Eccard12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Animal Ecology, University of Potsdam, Maulbeerallee 1, 14469 Potsdam, Germany

2 Department of Animal Behaviour, University of Bielefeld, Morgenbreede 45, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany

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BMC Ecology 2013, 13:49  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-13-49

Published: 7 December 2013



Animals show consistent individual behavioural patterns over time and over situations. This phenomenon has been referred to as animal personality or behavioural syndromes. Little is known about consistency of animal personalities over entire life times. We investigated the repeatability of behaviour in common voles (Microtus arvalis) at different life stages, with different time intervals, and in different situations. Animals were tested using four behavioural tests in three experimental groups: 1. before and after maturation over three months, 2. twice as adults during one week, and 3. twice as adult animals over three months, which resembles a substantial part of their entire adult life span of several months.


Different behaviours were correlated within and between tests and a cluster analysis showed three possible behavioural syndrome-axes, which we name boldness, exploration and activity. Activity and exploration behaviour in all tests was highly repeatable in adult animals tested over one week. In animals tested over maturation, exploration behaviour was consistent whereas activity was not. Voles that were tested as adults with a three-month interval showed the opposite pattern with stable activity but unstable exploration behaviour.


The consistency in behaviour over time suggests that common voles do express stable personality over short time. Over longer periods however, behaviour is more flexible and depending on life stage (i.e. tested before/after maturation or as adults) of the tested individual. Level of boldness or activity does not differ between tested groups and maintenance of variation in behavioural traits can therefore not be explained by expected future assets as reported in other studies.

Animal personality; Behavioural type; Microtus arvalis; Common vole; Plasticity; Consistency; Repeatability