Consistent individual differences in fathering in threespined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus

Laura R. Stein, Alison M. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is growing evidence that individual animals show consistent differences in behavior. For example, individual threespined stickleback fish differ in how they react to predators and how aggressive they are during social interactions with conspecifics. A relatively unexplored but potentially important axis of variation is parental behavior. In sticklebacks, fathers provide all of the parental care that is necessary for offspring survival; therefore paternal care is directly tied to fitness. In this study, we assessed whether individual male sticklebacks differ consistently from each other in parental behavior. We recorded visits to nest, total time fanning, and activity levels of 11 individual males every day throughout one clutch, and then allowed the males to breed again. Half of the males were exposed to predation risk while parenting during the first clutch, and the other half of the males experienced predation risk during the second clutch. We detected dramatic temporal changes in parental behaviors over the course of the clutch: for example, total time fanning increased six-fold prior to eggs hatching, then decreased to approximately zero. Despite these temporal changes, males retained their individually-distinctive parenting styles within a clutch that could not be explained by differences in body size or egg mass. Moreover, individual differences in parenting were maintained when males reproduced for a second time. Males that were exposed to simulated predation risk briefly decreased fanning and increased activity levels. Altogether, these results show that individual sticklebacks consistently differ from each other in how they behave as parents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-52
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Zoology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2012


  • Antipredator behavior
  • Behavioral syndrome
  • Fathers
  • Paternal care
  • Personality
  • Temperament

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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