Personality Trumps Appearance . . . at Least for Female Birds

For an adventurous female zebra finch a similar personality is more important than a male’s appearance or the condition of their beak, reveals research led by the University of Exeter and published in Ethology. This is the first study to show that personalities influence partner choice in non-humans.

The study focused on a population of more than 150 zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, as the research team used a series of behavioural tests to assess male and female birds for personality traits.

In one series of tests the team measured levels of adventurous behaviour by assessing a bird’s willingness to explore new environments and reactions to new objects. Each female watched as a pair of brothers explored strange new cages.

Unbeknown to the female one of the brothers was made to look less exploratory than the other as it was restrained within an invisible box. The team then put the female together with the brothers and observed which male she spent the most time with.

The results showed that exploratory females are more likely to favour the most apparently outgoing and confident males. This was regardless of the male birds body size, condition or beak colour. Less exploratory females on the other hand, did not show a preference for either male.

“This is strong evidence that females care about the apparent personality of their male independently of his appearance,” said team leader, Dr Sasha Dall, from the University of Exeter. “We have the first evidence that it is important for partners to have compatible personalities in the mating game. This is something we would probably all agree is the case for humans, but it has been overlooked for other species.”

Previous studies have shown that there is a link between a pair’s personalities and their reproductive success across a range of species.

“Exploratory females seem to have the most to gain by choosing exploratory mates,” said lead author, Dr Wiebke Schuett of the Royal Veterinary College. “We have shown previously that pairs of zebra finches that are both exploratory raise offspring in better condition than those that are mismatched or unexploratory.

Similar patterns have been seen in other birds and fish. However, this is the first evidence that the personality of both partners plays a role in mate choice.”

Resources from Wiley on This Topic
Community Ecology, 2nd Edition

by Peter J. Morin

An Introduction to Behavioural Ecology, 4th Edition

by Nicholas B. Davies, John R. Krebs, Stuart A. West


1. Wiebke Schuett, Jean-Guy J. Godin, Sasha R. X. Dall (2011). Do Female Zebra Finches, Taeniopygia guttata, Choose Their Mates Based on Their ‘Personality’? Ethology : 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2011.01945.x

Lions, Reforestation, and Satire: Strategies in Environmental Conservation

As the Greek economy maintains its slide towards default and the global climate continues to change for the worse, one organisation, writing in Biotropica, has come up with some novel answers to both problems. Reforest the country to offset historic deforestation and reintroduce long extinct animals such as lions, boosting the economy through eco-tourism.

The Coalition of Financially Challenged Countries With Lots of Trees (CoFCCLoT) also count the introduction of wild gorillas to Spain and the return of forests in G8 nations back to pre-industrial levels, among its suggestions for global sustainability.

CoFCCLoT of course does not exist. However, argue Erik Meijaard and Douglas Sheil, from the University of Queensland and the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation respectively, this fictitious organisation’s demands are an example of the effective use of satire to bridge seemingly impassable gaps in the understanding of politically contentious issues.

“Mockery is seldom part of the scientific approach, but it is effective when it comes to sustainability and the environment,” said Meijaard. “Scientists tend to approach problems using objective logic and data, ignoring the emotional content and subjective values. Conservation science is especially vulnerable as it is about values as much as facts.”

The use of satire to cut to the heart of a crisis has a noble history stretching back to 1729 and Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal to consider cannibalism as an answer to the economic plight of the improvised Irish community. It is this tradition, Meijaard and Sheil argue, which should be embraced by climate and conservation communicators today.

In their Biotropica paper1 Meijaard and Sheil consider a range of issues to compare the demands ‘the West’ makes of the developing world and how this contrasts hypocritically with how western consumers and politicians view their own actions. For example it’s perceived that ‘the West’ lambasts developing economies for focusing on cash crops, while remaining firmly attached to the resulting morning cup of coffee.

“An effective use of satire and humor can clarify the social, political or ethical obstacles to which conservation science is often blind,” concluded Sheil. “These obstacles play a major role in the political impasse to combating problems such as climate change. Using satire to force a reader to consider an issue from a surprising new angle, even if that angle is ridiculous, can help bridge the gap in perspectives.”

Conservation Psychology: Understanding and promoting human care for nature
by Susan Clayton and Gene Myers
Applied Urban Ecology
edited by Matthias Richter and Ulrike Weiland
Conservation Biogeography
edited by Richard J. Ladle and Robert J. Whittaker