Small mammals have different personalities, just like people do — and this can influence their decisions, leading to wide-ranging impacts on the environment.
Alessio Mortelliti, associate professor of wildlife habitat conservation, has been awarded an $875,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award to study how small animal personalities — whether shy, outgoing or in between — affect the ecosystem.
He plans to focus on the specific traits of individuals to find out how those traits and their expressions influence population trends and ecosystem processes like forest regeneration. This individual variation also could impact the response of populations and communities to land use and climate change.
A team of graduate and undergraduate students, collaborators and citizen scientists will assess how changes in land-use practices affect the distribution of different animal personality types, and assess whether diversity in personalities can influence population dynamics, such as whether a high proportion of bold individuals in the population leads to a different dynamic than a population of mainly shy individuals.
The project also will encompass a new teaching model called “personalities studying personalities,” in which Mortelliti will encourage undergraduate students to analyze, improve and capitalize on their own personality traits and communication methods. Students will then utilize those skills and knowledge to engage high school students in citizen science projects that are part of Mortelliti’s research.
“The insights and models generated by this project will illuminate the link between individual variation and population, community and ecosystem dynamics,” says Mortelliti.