Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Application Of Animal Personality In Conservation Biology: Investigating A New Tool In North Island Robin (Petroica longipes)

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posted on 2022-06-02, 01:02 authored by Regan MacKinlay

Conservation biology is an applied and multidisciplinary scientific discipline focused on promoting biodiversity and preserving species at risk of extinction. Animal personality (defined as consistent behaviour within and variation among individual animals) has frequently been linked to survival, reproduction, movement, and other environmental interactions. Therefore, it has been suggested that incorporating animal personality helps mitigate conservation problems. However, the extent to which this has been attempted and the feasibility of doing so still require evaluation. Therefore, I aimed to examine the full extent of how animal personality has been incorporated into conservation, test how feasible measuring personality in real conservation contexts is and assess the applications of personality from a conservation perspective.

First, I performed a systematic review of the peer-reviewed literature on conservation biology and animal personality. Second, to address the lack of appropriate and practical applications of personality in real-world conservation contexts, I adapted existing conservation management protocols for a conservation dependent species, the North Island robin, hereafter referred to by its Māori name toutouwai. Toutouwai is a threatened species that fit the typical characteristics of New Zealand’s avifauna in that they are naïve to mammals, including humans. Thus, toutouwai are highly susceptible to invasive mammalian predators but willingly engage in behavioural tasks in the wild. Using this system I adapted standard conservation monitoring procedures, and an anti-predator training procedure to take personality measures of individuals. This system makes for a unique opportunity to study personality in a real-world conservation setting.

From the review, I found that personality has been applied to a broad range of conservation contexts but is not well executed with approximately half of all studies falling short of appropriate methods for quantifying personality. Furthermore, there was a lack of conservation-focused content or applications in the studies that measured personality appropriately, indicating personality as a conservation tool is at an infant stage. From my tests implementing personality into conservation, I found that incorporating personality through adapting conservation management procedures and anti-predator interventions in the wild is feasible under ideal conditions. However, both tests highlight the need for focused research on ecological function and may be prohibitive for most conservationists to expend resources on currently. Overall, personality has a place in conservation but probably in fewer contexts than has been previously suggested


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline

Ecology and Biodiversity

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Centre for Biodiversity & Restoration of Ecology

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

180606 Terrestrial biodiversity; 280102 Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

4 Experimental research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Biological Sciences


Shaw, Rachael; Burns, Kevin