Repeatability, heritability, and age‐dependence of seasonal plasticity in aggressiveness in a wild passerine bird
Summary Labile characters allow individuals to flexibly adjust their phenotype to changes in environmental conditions. There is growing evidence that individuals can differ both in average expression and level of plasticity in this type of character. Both of these aspects are studied in conjunction within a reaction norm framework.Theoreticians have investigated the factors promoting variation in reaction norm intercepts (average phenotype) and slopes (level of plasticity) of a key labile character: behaviour. A general prediction from their work is that selection will favour the evolution of repeatable individual variation in level of plasticity only under certain ecological conditions. While factors promoting individual repeatability of plasticity have thus been identified, empirical estimates of this phenomenon are largely lacking for wild populations.We assayed aggressiveness of individual male great tits ( Parus major ) twice during their egg‐laying stage and twice during their egg‐incubation stage to quantify each male's level of seasonal plasticity. This procedure was applied during six consecutive years; all males breeding in our plots during those years were assayed, resulting in repeated measures of individual reaction norms for any individual breeding in multiple years. We quantified among‐ and within‐individual variation in reaction norm components, allowing us to estimate repeatability of seasonal plasticity. Using social pedigree information, we further partitioned reaction norm components into their additive genetic and permanent environmental counterparts.Cross‐year individual repeatability for the intercepts (average aggressiveness) and slopes (level of seasonal plasticity) of the aggressiveness reaction norms were 0·574 and 0·516 respectively. The mean of the posterior distributions suggested modest heritabilities ( h 2 = 0·260 for intercepts; h 2 = 0·266 for slopes), but these estimates were relatively uncertain. Males behaved more aggressively in areas with higher breeding densities, and became less aggressive and less plastic with increasing age; plasticity thus varied within individuals and was multidimensional in nature.This empirical study quantified cross‐year individual repeatability, heritability and age‐related reversible plasticity in behaviour. Acknowledging such patterns of multi‐level variation is important not only for testing behavioural ecology theory concerning the evolution of repeatable differences in behavioural plasticity but also for predicting how reversible plasticity may evolve in natural populations.
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