Do Melomys cervinipes have personalities? Variations in behaviour and hormones (#877)
Habitat degradation caused by anthropogenic environmental change is exposing organisms to increasingly novel habitats, resulting in an increased risk of extinction. Environments exert a strong influence on the development of an animal’s behavioural syndrome or ‘personality’, making environmental changes an important factor. Behavioural syndromes are a series of correlated behaviours that are consistently displayed within an environment by an individual. They are associated with fluctuating hormone concentrations, in particular, corticosterone and testosterone. Both hormones are linked with behavioural traits such as anxiety and boldness. Behavioural syndromes have not been investigated in any native Australian rodent, which is surprising, given that tropical rainforests in particular are among the most human-affected ecosystems. Therefore, I aim to study whether the fawn-footed melomys, Melomys cervinipes, in the Wet Tropics has distinct behavioural syndromes and whether these behavioural syndromes are associated with habitat disturbance. I hypothesise that individual M. cervinipes will show distinct behavioural syndromes depending on their habitat. I predict that animals from more open, disturbed habitats will have bolder personalities and cope better with stress, as demonstrated by a consistent behavioural response over three standard behavioural tests (open field test, novel object test, plus maze), a predator avoidance task, a dyadic interaction test and correlated blood hormone (testosterone and corticosterone) profiles. Hormone profiles will be assessed using radioimmunoassay and mass-spectrometry. This study will provide a greater understanding of the relationship between behavioural syndromes and habitat disturbance in a poorly studied Australian rodent. This knowledge will provide an insight into how individual and population fitness could be affected in degraded environments and how animals may cope with environmental change.