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Early development and the emergence of individual differences in behavior among littermates of wild rabbit pups

Abstract : The ontogeny of associated individual differences in behavior and physiology during early postnatal life, and in particular the emergence of such differences among litter siblings, has been hardly explored in mammals under natural conditions. We studied such within-litter differences in behavior in European rabbit pups Oryctolagus cuniculus prior to weaning, and whether and how these differences co-varied with other individual characteristics such as postnatal body temperature and early growth. The study was conducted under seminatural conditions in a colony of rabbits of wild origin,where the youngwere born and developed in nursery burrows. Weequipped two siblings per litterwith interscapular skin temperature loggers on postnatal day 2 and recorded temperature profiles for 48 h. Individual body (skin) temperatures of pups within litters were repeatable across time, indicating the existence of consistent individual differences. Such differences within litters were associatedwith relative differences in pre-weaning growth, revealing that relativelywarmer pups showed a greater increase in body mass during the nest period. Between postnatal days 12 and 17, after the pups had reached a developmental stage of greater mobility, we carried out different behavioral tests: a handling-restraint test, an open field test and a jump-down test from a platform. Individual responses in the former two tests were associated, as those pups showing a quicker struggling response to restraint during handling also exhibited greater exploratory activity in the open field. This correlation across contexts suggests the existence of personality types in wild rabbits at an early developmental stage. Furthermore, pups' behavioral responses were strongly associated with their relative within-litter body mass at testing. Animals with a lower body mass compared to their siblings showed a relatively quicker struggle response to handling restraint and covered a relatively larger distance in the open field, suggesting greater reactivity and responsiveness of relatively lighter pups in these tests. In contrast, relatively heavier pups jumped sooner from the platform, which may have been due to their greater physical maturation. In conclusion, our study shows that individual differences in behavior and associated differences in body temperature and growth are already present during early postnatal life, although such relationships can be easily overlooked, as they predominantly emerge as relative differences among littermates.
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Contributeur : Heiko Rödel <>
Soumis le : samedi 29 juin 2019 - 20:43:14
Dernière modification le : mercredi 22 avril 2020 - 09:44:03




Heiko G. Rödel, Heiko Rödel, Amando Bautista, Manuel Roder, Caroline Gilbert, et al.. Early development and the emergence of individual differences in behavior among littermates of wild rabbit pups. Physiology & Behavior, 2017, 173, pp.101-109. ⟨10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.01.044⟩. ⟨hal-02168919⟩



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