Don't poke the bear: using tracking data to quantify behavioural syndromes in elusive wildlife

Anne G. Hertel, Martin Leclerc, Dan Warren, Fanie Pelletier, Andreas Zedrosser, Thomas Mueller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


Animal personality traits and the emergence of behavioural syndromes, i.e. between-individual correlation of behaviours, are commonly quantified from behavioural observations in controlled environments. Subjecting large and elusive wildlife to controlled test situations is, however, rarely possible, suggesting that ecologists should exploit alternative measures of behaviours for quantifying differences between individuals. Our goal was to test whether movement and space use data can be used to quantify behavioural syndromes in the wild. We quantified six behaviours from GPS and dual motion sensor tracking devices of 46 adult female brown bears followed in southcentral Sweden over the summer and early autumn. As well as daily travel distance, an indicator for activity, and daily displacement, an indicator for exploration, we quantified four behaviours that increase a bear's likelihood of encountering humans and could thus serve as indicators for boldness: diurnality, selection for roads and selection for two open habitat types, bogs and clearcuts, with low lateral cover. We tested (1) whether behaviours showed repeatable between-individual variation (animal personality) and (2) whether behaviours were correlated between individuals and thus formed a behavioural syndrome. Repeatability of behaviours ranged from 0.16 to 0.61 confirming between-individual variation in movement, activity and space use. A multivariate mixed model revealed significant positive correlations between travel distance, displacement and diurnality, suggesting the existence of an activity–exploration and potentially partial boldness syndrome in our bear population. Selection for exposed or human-frequented habitats were uncorrelated with the activity–exploration syndrome and with each other, albeit there was a trend for stronger road avoidance by bears that readily used clearcuts. We show that large tracking data sets can be used to quantify between-individual correlation in spatial behaviours. We suggest that delineating behavioural types from wildlife tracking data will be of increasing interest because of the importance of animal personality for ecological processes, wildlife conservation and human–wildlife coexistence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-104
Number of pages14
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Early online dateDec 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


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