What can whole genome expression data tell us about the ecology and evolution of personality?

Alison M. Bell, Nadia Aubin-Horth

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Consistent individual differences in behaviour, aka personality, pose several evolutionary questions. For example, it is difficult to explain within-individual consistency in behaviour because behavioural plasticity is often advantageous. In addition, selection erodes heritable behavioural variation that is related to fitness, therefore we wish to know the mechanisms that can maintain between-individual variation in behaviour. In this paper, we argue that whole genome expression data can reveal new insights into the proximate mechanisms underlying personality, as well as its evolutionary consequences. After introducing the basics of whole genome expression analysis, we show how whole genome expression data can be used to understand whether behaviours in different contexts are affected by the same molecular mechanisms. We suggest strategies for using the power of genomics to understand what maintains behavioural variation, to study the evolution of behavioural correlations and to compare personality traits across diverse organisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4001-4012
Number of pages12
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1560
StatePublished - Dec 27 2010


  • Behavioural syndrome
  • Consistency
  • Gene expression
  • Genetics
  • Individual variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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