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Han, Chang S. and Dingemanse, Niels J. (2017): You are what you eat: diet shapes body composition, personality and behavioural stability. In: BMC Evolutionary Biology 17:8 [PDF, 716kB]


Background: Behavioural phenotypes vary within and among individuals. While early-life experiences have repeatedly been proposed to underpin interactions between these two hierarchical levels, the environmental factors causing such effects remain under-studied. We tested whether an individual's diet affected both its body composition, average behaviour (thereby causing among-individual variation or 'personality') and within-individual variability in behaviour and body weight (thereby causing among-individual differences in residual within-individual variance or 'stability'), using the Southern field cricket Gryllus bimaculatus as a model. We further asked whether effects of diet on the expression of these variance components were sex-specific. Methods: Manipulating both juvenile and adult diet in a full factorial design, individuals were put, in each life-stage, on a diet that was either relatively high in carbohydrates or relatively high in protein. We subsequently measured the expression of multiple behavioural (exploration, aggression and mating activity) and morphological traits (body weight and lipid mass) during adulthood. Results: Dietary history affected both average phenotype and level of within-individual variability: males raised as juveniles on high-protein diets were heavier, more aggressive, more active during mating, and behaviourally less stable, than conspecifics raised on high-carbohydrate diets. Females preferred more protein in their diet compared to males, and dietary history affected average phenotype and within-individual variability in a sex-specific manner: individuals raised on high-protein diets were behaviourally less stable in their aggressiveness but this effect was only present in males. Diet also influenced individual differences in male body weight, but within-individual variance in female body weight. Discussion: This study thereby provides experimental evidence that dietary history explains both heterogeneous residual within-individual variance (i.e., individual variation in 'behavioural stability') and individual differences in average behaviour (i.e., /personality'), though dietary effects were notably trait-specific. These findings call for future studies integrating proximate and ultimate perspectives on the role of diet in the evolution of repeatedly expressed traits, such as behaviour and body weight.

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