Similarity in nest defense intensity in Canada goose pairs

  • Jeanne ClermontEmail author
  • Denis Réale
  • Jean-François Giroux
Original Article


Individuals consistently differ in their behavior, and such personality differences are often linked to fitness. For biparental care species, the behavior of both parents can impact reproductive success. Behavioral similarity within pairs has been shown to provide selective advantages for many species. In this study, we tested for behavioral similarity in 129 pairs of nesting Canada geese (Branta canadensis) with respect to nest defense behavior, an individually consistent trait. We used a bivariate mixed model to provide unbiased estimates of correlations between partners’ traits. We also tested for the effect of behavioral similarity between mates on reproductive success and predicted greater success for positively assorted pairs. We found that over four consecutive years, pairs of Canada geese were formed of individuals showing similar nest defense intensities. Assortment between mates may result both from personality-dependent non-random mate choice and from behavioral adjustments after pairing that are maintained in the long term. However, behavioral adjustment to a shared environment, among and within breeding seasons, had negligible effects on the covariation between partners’ traits. We also found that similarity in nest defense intensity did not result in higher reproductive success. The factors at the origin of the evolution of long-term behavioral similarity based on nest defense in Canada geese pairs remain to be identified.

Significance statement

Individual consistency in behavioral traits has been demonstrated for many animal species, and its importance in ecology and evolution is now accepted. The maintenance of personality traits in a population may in fact be explained by non-random mate choice like assortative mating, where paired individuals show similar phenotypes. We studied the nest defense behavior, a highly repeatable trait, of 129 Canada goose pairs during four consecutive years and found that paired individuals had similar personalities, suggesting personality-dependent mate choice or post-pairing adjustments maintained in the long term. Our findings also show that the phenotypic similarity between mated individuals is not always related to reproductive success and can possibly result from non-adaptive mechanisms.


Assortative mating Behavioral similarity Bivariate mixed model Mate choice Nest defense Personality 



We acknowledge the technical assistance of Francis St-Pierre and the contribution of many volunteers who helped with nest monitoring and annual banding. The authors thank Francesca Santostefano, Pierre-Olivier Montiglio, Clint Kelly, and two anonymous reviewers for their help in improving the manuscript and Charline Couchoux for her helpful discussions.


This work was supported by Environment Canada and by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Research Grants to J-FG (grant no. 41712). JC was supported by scholarships from the NSERC and from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec-Nature et Technologies (FRQNT).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

Animal handling methods were approved by the UQAM Animal Care Committee (no. 578 and no. 716) and conformed to the guidelines of the Canadian Council for Animal Care.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département des Sciences BiologiquesUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontrealCanada

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