Presentation Title

Rethinking how we measure animal personality: An exploration of the validity of the ‘handling bag test’ on wild squirrels

Faculty Mentor

Peter Nonacs

Start Date

17-11-2018 8:30 AM

End Date

17-11-2018 10:30 AM

Location

CREVELING 16

Session

POSTER 1

Type of Presentation

Poster

Subject Area

biological_agricultural_sciences

Abstract

Broadly, animal personality is defined as the between individual variation in behavior that is consistent within an animal across time and context. An individual’s personality is built by a compilation of specific traits that influence an individual's behavior in different situations while remaining stable across time. Docility is a behavioral trait defined by an animal’s response to being handled by a human and is commonly measured in wild rodents using a ‘handling bag test.’ The handling bag test measures the ratio of time within one minute an individual remains still while suspended in mesh bag (handling bag). Here, we used a handling bag test in a marked study population of wild California ground squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) and Western grey squirrels (Sciurus griseus) on the University of California, James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve. Preliminary data from the early stages of this work do not show any significant variation in time spent still in the bag between or within individuals. Squirrels consistently remained still throughout the duration of the test and where only recorded moving when a noticeable change in the environment occurred (e.g. movement by an experimenter or alarm call from another animal). We do not interpret these findings as a result of the absence of variation in docility level amongst individuals, but instead as a consequence of possible methodological issues with the handling bag test. Reliably measuring personality traits of wild animals in the field is challenging due to lack of control of environmental variables. This work may illuminate a possible need to question how we measure and interpret findings utilizing the handling bag test and other commonly used methods for quantifying behavioral traits like docility.

Summary of research results to be presented

This poster will present preliminary data of an exploratory field experiment where I attempted to measure between individual variation in levels of docility in wild squirrels. I will display a small data set collected from a sample size of 15 squirrels each receiving between 1 and 3 handling bag tests. The primary focus of the results section of this poster will cover the conflicts faced when using this docility test in the field and how these issues may have impacted the results collected thus far.

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Nov 17th, 8:30 AM Nov 17th, 10:30 AM

Rethinking how we measure animal personality: An exploration of the validity of the ‘handling bag test’ on wild squirrels

CREVELING 16

Broadly, animal personality is defined as the between individual variation in behavior that is consistent within an animal across time and context. An individual’s personality is built by a compilation of specific traits that influence an individual's behavior in different situations while remaining stable across time. Docility is a behavioral trait defined by an animal’s response to being handled by a human and is commonly measured in wild rodents using a ‘handling bag test.’ The handling bag test measures the ratio of time within one minute an individual remains still while suspended in mesh bag (handling bag). Here, we used a handling bag test in a marked study population of wild California ground squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) and Western grey squirrels (Sciurus griseus) on the University of California, James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve. Preliminary data from the early stages of this work do not show any significant variation in time spent still in the bag between or within individuals. Squirrels consistently remained still throughout the duration of the test and where only recorded moving when a noticeable change in the environment occurred (e.g. movement by an experimenter or alarm call from another animal). We do not interpret these findings as a result of the absence of variation in docility level amongst individuals, but instead as a consequence of possible methodological issues with the handling bag test. Reliably measuring personality traits of wild animals in the field is challenging due to lack of control of environmental variables. This work may illuminate a possible need to question how we measure and interpret findings utilizing the handling bag test and other commonly used methods for quantifying behavioral traits like docility.