Boldness, a measure of an individual's propensity for taking risks, is an important determinant of fitness but is not necessarily a fixed trait. Dependent upon an individual's state, and given certain contexts or challenges, individuals may be able to alter their inclination to be bold or shy in response. Furthermore, the degree to which individuals can modulate their behaviour has been linked with physiological responses to stress. Here we attempted to determine whether bold and shy rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss, can exhibit behavioural plasticity in response to changes in state (nutritional availability) and context (predation threat). Individual trout were initially assessed for boldness using a standard novel object paradigm; subsequently, each day for one week fish experienced either predictable, unpredictable, or no simulated predator threat in combination with a high (2% body weight) or low (0.15%) food ration, before being reassessed for boldness. Bold trout were generally more plastic, altering levels of neophobia and activity relevant to the challenge, whereas shy trout were more fixed and remained shy. Increased predation risk generally resulted in an increase in the expression of three candidate genes linked to boldness, appetite regulation and physiological stress responses - ependymin, corticotrophin releasing factor and GABA(A) - but did not produce a significant increase in plasma cortisol. The results suggest a divergence in the ability of bold and shy trout to alter their behavioural profiles in response to internal and exogenous factors, and have important implications for our understanding of the maintenance of different behavioural phenotypes in natural populations.
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