Persistent social interactions beget more pronounced personalities in a desert-dwelling social spider
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The social niche specialization hypothesis predicts that repeated social interactions will generate social niches within groups, thereby promoting consistent individual differences in behaviour. Current support for this hypothesis is mixed, probably because the importance of social niches is dependent upon the ecology of the species. We test whether repeated interactions among group mates generate consistent individual differences in boldness in the social spider, Stegodyphus dumicola. In support of the social niche specialization hypothesis, we found that consistent individual differences in boldness increased with longer group tenure. Interestingly, these differences took longer to appear than in previous work suggesting this species needs more persistent social interactions to shape its behaviour. Recently disturbed colonies were shyer than older colonies, possibly reflecting differences in predation risk. Our study emphasizes the importance of the social environment in generating animal personalities, but also suggests that the pattern of personality development can depend on subtle differences in species' ecologies.
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