Investigating the Interactions between Social Behaviour and Habituation to a Novel Environment in Sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus)

  • Chris Poole

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Science by Research (MScR)


This thesis aims to investigate the interactions between the collective behaviour of sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and the rate to which they habituate to a novel environment. The first data chapter is a group-based study, which investigates the rate at which groups of varying cohesiveness habituate to a novel environment. Groups of eight individuals were introduced in to a tank containing two refuges and an open area, which was assumed to carry a higher perceived degree of predation risk than the refuges. There was found to be a positive correlation between groups’ cohesiveness and the degree to which they habituated to the novel environment, suggesting that behaving collectively may convey a significant fitness advantage through facilitating faster environmental habituation.
The second data chapter used an individual-based approach to investigate the effect of individual personality traits (in terms of boldness and sociability) on the habituation rate of individuals over consecutive days. Individuals were introduced to a novel environment each day for three consecutive days. Their sociability was quantified by the time that they chose to spend in close proximity to a visible shoal of conspecifics, and the rate at which they habituated to the environment over the course of the tree days was measured. This study found no significant correlation between an individual’s sociability and the degree to which they habituated to the environment. However, this study did provide evidence for boldness being a personality trait in sticklebacks.
There was evidence across both of the studies that suggested that several individuals did not habituate to their environments to a significant degree over the course of the trials. This may be due to some limitations in the methods used in these two studies. Recommendations for further study to prevent a desensitization effect from occurring (as was suspected in this study) have been discussed.
Date of Award23 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorChristos C Ioannou (Supervisor)

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