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The personality of shrews

An EU team compared shrew personalities across species and genera. Individuals from the same species showed very similar personalities, although different foraging strategies accounted for cognitive and learning variation between families.
The personality of shrews
Individual mammals of the same species can differ markedly in their behaviours, and collectively the differences are known as personality. Yet it now seems that closely related species of the same family show characteristic personality differences as well, which may confer adaptive benefits.

The EU-funded PERSONALIHI (Species personality – do consistent behavioural differences between species and individuals relate to their life history? – A comparative approach in shrews) project compared the two subfamilies of European shrews. The Soricinae and the Crocidurinae differ in life-history and metabolic rate.

The study categorised the variation according to individual, taxonomic and geographic gradients. Then the team assessed whether such variation affected learning performance, and whether the differences related to ecological and evolutionary factors.

Over nine field trips to three European countries, researchers trapped 157 individuals from five shrew species. Each individual received a comprehensive personality assessment, the first ever conducted on shrews. The team also sampled the population genetics.

Personality strongly correlated with species. Individuals of the same species behaviourally resembled each other far more than individuals of other species. Species also showed strong similarities with others in the same genera. The more distantly related the species, the less alike they were.

Yet cognitive experiments did not support such clear-cut differences among species. The two families were broadly similar, although Soricinae seemed slightly faster at learning. Explanation of the difference relies on the fact that the active Soricinae must choose metabolically efficient foraging strategies.

Researchers also tested the social niche specialisation hypothesis, which predicts that social species develop and maintain more personality types. The hypothesis was upheld.

The PERSONALIHI project was the first to study animal personality in relation to genetic and ecological factors.

Related information


Species, personality, behaviour, PERSONALIHI, shrews, geographic gradient
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