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Personality shapes pair bonding in a wild bird social system


Mated pair bonds are integral to many animal societies, yet how individual variation in behaviour influences their formation remains largely unknown. In a population of wild great tits (Parus major), we show that personality shapes pair bonding: proactive males formed stronger pre-breeding pair bonds by meeting their future partners sooner and increasing their relationship strength at a faster rate. As a result, proactive males sampled fewer potential mates. Thus, personality may have important implications for social relationship dynamics and emergent social structure.

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Fig. 1: Relationship between individual personality and dyadic pair bonding.
Fig. 2: Personality and temporal patterns in dyadic pair bonding and encounters.

Data availability

All data supporting the findings of this study are available within the paper and its Supplementary Information files.


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We are particularly grateful to the Social Network Group of the Edward Grey Institute, Oxford University, for assistance with fieldwork and help with captive birds. This work was funded by an Edward Grey Institute Research Fellowship and Merton College Junior Research Fellowship to J.A.F., and an ERC grant to B.C.S. (AdG 250164). J.L.Q. was supported by the ERC (Horizon 2020 FP7/2007-2013 and Consolidator 617509 grants).

Author information




J.A.F. conceived the study, carried out the analysis and wrote the first draft. J.A.F., E.F.C., C.C.I., J.L.Q. and B.C.S. interpreted the data and planned the draft. J.A.F., E.F.C., L.M.A., A.C. and K.M. collected the data. All authors contributed significantly to revising the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Josh A. Firth.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1-6, Supplementary Tables 1-6, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary References

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data

A .RData file containing the data used in the manuscript and

Supplementary Note

A README file describing the Supplementary data format

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Firth, J.A., Cole, E.F., Ioannou, C.C. et al. Personality shapes pair bonding in a wild bird social system. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 1696–1699 (2018).

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