Date of Graduation

Fall 2013


Master of Science in Biology



Committee Chair

Alicia Mathis


behavioral syndromes, personality, operant conditioning, behavior, behavioral plasticity, salamander, Plethodon serratus

Subject Categories



Animals generally are predicted to behave in ways that are presumed to maximize fitness, such as retreating at the sign of a predator or being aggressive in mating competitions and territorial conflicts. However, responses to specific stimuli can be highly variable, which in part can be explained by individual "personalities” or "behavioral syndromes”. There has been little study concerning whether behavioral syndromes are stable or can be modified by personal experience. In this study, I compared behavior of adult southern red-backed salamanders (Plethodon serratus) in two contexts: (1) exploring unfamiliar territory, and (2) learning to adopt a foraging task. A behavioral syndrome was present for females; individuals that excelled in the foraging task also had a tendency to travel greater distances from their territories compared to individuals that were less successful in the foraging task. In contrast, males failed to show any consistency in behaviors between the two contexts. Operant conditioning experiments tested whether negative reinforcement influenced the behavioral syndrome of females. Within-context changes in behavior were weak, but there were significant changes in cross-context behavior suggesting behavioral syndrome instability in these salamanders. These results could help explain why the syndrome is absent in males, and raises questions regarding the evolution of behavioral syndromes.


© Travis West Reeder

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