A Behavioral Syndrome Linking Boldness and Flexibility Facilitates Invasion Success in Sticklebacks

Miles K. Bensky, Alison M. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


For a species to expand its range, it needs to be good at dispersing and also capable of exploiting resources and adapting to different environments. Therefore, behavioral and cognitive traits could play key roles in facilitating invasion success. Marine three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) have repeatedly colonized freshwater environments and rapidly adapted to them. Here, by comparing the behavior of hundreds of lab-reared sticklebacks from six different populations, we show that marine sticklebacks are bold, while sticklebacks that have become established in freshwater lakes are flexible. Moreover, boldness and flexibility are negatively correlated with one another at the individual, family, and population levels. These results support the hypothesis that boldness is favored in invaders during the initial dispersal stage, while flexibility is favored in recent immigrants during the establishment stage, and they suggest that the link between boldness and flexibility facilitates success during both the dispersal stage and the establishment stage. This study adds to the growing body of work showing the importance of behavioral correlations in facilitating colonization success in sticklebacks and other organisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)846-856
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2022


  • convergent
  • intraspecific variation
  • novel object
  • persistence
  • plasticity
  • rapid adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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