Behavioral syndromes: an ecological and evolutionary overview

Trends Ecol Evol. 2004 Jul;19(7):372-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2004.04.009.


Recent studies suggest that populations and species often exhibit behavioral syndromes; that is, suites of correlated behaviors across situations. An example is an aggression syndrome where some individuals are more aggressive, whereas others are less aggressive across a range of situations and contexts. The existence of behavioral syndromes focuses the attention of behavioral ecologists on limited (less than optimal) behavioral plasticity and behavioral carryovers across situations, rather than on optimal plasticity in each isolated situation. Behavioral syndromes can explain behaviors that appear strikingly non-adaptive in an isolated context (e.g. inappropriately high activity when predators are present, or excessive sexual cannibalism). Behavioral syndromes can also help to explain the maintenance of individual variation in behavioral types, a phenomenon that is ubiquitous, but often ignored. Recent studies suggest that the behavioral type of an individual, population or species can have important ecological and evolutionary implications, including major effects on species distributions, on the relative tendencies of species to be invasive or to respond well to environmental change, and on speciation rates. Although most studies of behavioral syndromes to date have focused on a few organisms, mainly in the laboratory, further work on other species, particularly in the field, should yield numerous new insights.