Predictability in an unpredictable world: Situating zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) personality in the contexts of mate choice and parental care

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Individual differences in behavior, and animal personality, are known to influence social interactions, such as mate choice and parental care. However, most studies concentrate on how personality traits predict behavior in one domain, such as courtship, rather than connecting personality traits to several different downstream behaviors, such as reproduction and parental care, within those same individuals. This dissertation proposes that, in monogamous species that provide biparental care, personality traits may serve as a means to index the behavioral compatibility of a potential pair partner and to assess their quality as a future parent. I investigate these ideas in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), a common laboratory species for studying song learning, and yet relatively understudied in terms of understanding ecologically relevant behaviors within groups. I first investigate whether zebra finches attend to personality traits when making social decisions, by examining whether personality predicts mate choice and assortative pairings. When given free choice of pair partner, zebra finches select ones that are similar to them in exploration, as assessed by a novel environment test. Next, I studied the implications of exploration for parental sensitivity, or their contingent responses to juvenile song. Within assortative pairs, high exploring females tended to increase parental sensitivity over time, while low exploring males were more sensitive to juvenile song than high exploring males overall. This dual pattern of responses ensures that chicks from different nests receive similar amounts of parental feedback during song learning, with parents potentially buffering the influence of their mate. Lastly, I investigate how personality traits may be transduced into proximate cues for potential mates during courtship, and whether more similar mates have higher quality pair bonds. I experimentally manipulated pair similarity in exploration by assigning birds to mates, and observed the resultant pair outcomes. In pairs more similar in exploration, more synchronous behavior emerged. Personality traits were transduced into proximate cues, with low exploring females giving more frequent fluff-ups than high exploring females. Together, these findings suggest that zebra finches are selecting mates similar to them in exploration to maximize behavioral compatibility with their pair partner, with downstream effects on reproductive outcomes.

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169 pages


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courtship; exploration; parental behavior; personality; synchrony; zebra finch


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Union Local


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Goldstein, Michael H.

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Ophir, Alexander G.
Regan, Elizabeth
Iyer Swallow, Khena Marie

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Ph. D., Psychology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International


dissertation or thesis

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