Integrating personality research and animal contest theory: Aggressiveness in the green swordtail xiphophorus helleri

Alastair J. Wilson, Marloes de Boer, Gareth Arnott, Andrew Grimmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Aggression occurs when individuals compete over limiting resources. While theoretical studies have long placed a strong emphasis on context-specificity of aggression, there is increasing recognition that consistent behavioural differences exist among individuals, and that aggressiveness may be an important component of individual personality. Though empirical studies tend to focus on one aspect or the other, we suggest there is merit in modelling both within- and among-individual variation in agonistic behaviour simultaneously. Here, we demonstrate how this can be achieved using multivariate linear mixed effect models. Using data from repeated mirror trials and dyadic interactions of male green swordtails, Xiphophorus helleri, we show repeatable components of (co)variation in a suite of agonistic behaviour that is broadly consistent with a major axis of variation in aggressiveness. We also show that observed focal behaviour is dependent on opponent effects, which can themselves be repeatable but were more generally found to be context specific. In particular, our models show that within-individual variation in agonistic behaviour is explained, at least in part, by the relative size of a live opponent as predicted by contest theory. Finally, we suggest several additional applications of the multivariate models demonstrated here. These include testing the recently queried functional equivalence of alternative experimental approaches, (e.g., mirror trials, dyadic interaction tests) for assaying individual aggressiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere28024
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Integrating personality research and animal contest theory: Aggressiveness in the green swordtail xiphophorus helleri'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this