Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Danielle N. Lee, Ph.D.
Scientific American
The Urban Scientist

Exploring behavioral syndromes and individual differences in prairie voles and other wild rodents


Wednesday— August 7, 2013
Pacific Forum — 3:00 p.m.

Within the Behavioral Syndromes framework, researchers study individual differences in behavior of animals as suites of correlated behaviors across different environmental contexts or testing situations. The popularity of behavioral syndrome research has yielded many different methods of examining and interpreting individual differences in behavior of animals. There have been a number of studies that have demonstrated individual distinctiveness of animal subjects but have failed to find a correlation of behaviors across tests or contexts. My dissertation research on prairie voles, Microtus ochogaster, was a critical examination of the Behavioral Syndrome hypothesis that set out to demonstrate correlated behaviors in different situations within a single context – exploration. The results of my study and those of other researchers studying wild animal subjects raise questions about the ability to identify animal personality types and the validity of behavioral syndromes as a general attribute of animal behavior. My postdoctoral research project focuses on behavior of African giant pouched rat, Cricetomys gambianus, a species that has been effectively utilized to detect explosives. Because the species offers a great value to the US military, there is interest in identifying natural behaviors that could be exploited for training purposes as well as identifying behavioral and genetic tendencies that could be used to refine explosives-detection training methods. This research is still in the very early stages, but the ultimate goal is to enable a priori prediction of behavioral profiles, solely based on genetic signatures. Together, this series of experiments will provide a clear and comprehensive description of Cricetomys behavior under natural and laboratory conditions, while offering insight into the source and expression of individual differences in behavior.


Next: August 14—Summer Intern Symposium