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Animal personalities can influence social interactions among individuals, and thus have major implications for population processes and structure. Few studies have investigated the significance of the social context of animal personalities, and such research has largely focused on the social organization of nonterritorial populations. Here we address the question of whether exploratory behaviour, a well-studied personality trait, is related to the social structure of a wild great tit, Parus major, population during the breeding season. We assayed the exploration behaviour of wild-caught great tits and then established the phenotypic spatial structure of the population over six consecutive breeding seasons. Network analyses of breeding proximity revealed that males, but not females, show positive assortment by behavioural phenotype, with males breeding closer to those of similar personalities. This assortment was detected when we used networks based on nearest neighbours, but not when we used the Thiessen polygon method where neighbours were defined from inferred territory boundaries. Further analysis found no relationship between personality assortment and local environmental conditions, suggesting that social processes may be more important than environmental variation in influencing male territory choice. This social organization during the breeding season has implications for the strength and direction of both natural and sexual selection on personality in wild animal populations.

Original publication




Journal article


Animal behaviour

Publication Date





21 - 32


University of Oxford, Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford, U.K.