Personality-Associated Genetic Variation in Birds and Its Possible Significance for Avian Evolution, Conservation, and Welfare

  • Andrew Fidler
Part of the Primatology Monographs book series (PrimMono)


As free-living birds are relatively visible to human observers, bird behavioral studies have contributed greatly to ethology and behavioral ecology. Combining avian behavioral and molecular genetic studies might be expected to yield insights into both underlying neuroendocrine mechanisms and evolutionary processes associated with bird personalities. Associations between mammalian dopamine receptor D4 (DRD4) gene polymorphisms and varying levels of novelty-seeking behavior have been reported. In a search for DRD4 polymorphism – novelty-seeking associations in a bird species (great tit, Parus major) – a synonymous single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) denoted SNP830 showed evidence of association with novelty-seeking behavior variation in both lines selected for divergent levels of early exploratory behavior (EEB) and unselected birds taken from a wild population. In addition, the phenotypic effect of SNP830 genotype may be influenced by a 15 bp indel polymorphism located 5′ to the DRD4 putative transcription initiation site. Remarkably, DRD4 genotype–behavior associations may predate the divergence of the avian and mammalian lineages. Identification of personality-associated genetic polymorphisms may assist the selective breeding of poultry for improved welfare, and preservation of personality-associated genetic diversity may prove important in avian conservation genetics.


Zebra Finch DRD4 Gene Animal Personality SNP830 Polymorphism Feather Pecking 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



My thanks go to the following people for providing photographs: Kees van Oers (Fig. 13.1a, b), Andrew Walmsley (Fig. 13.4a), and Ruedi Fries (Fig. 13.4b) and to the Royal Society (London) for permission to reproduce the data shown in Fig. 13.3. Many thanks to Silke Steiger for generating the snake plot shown in Fig. 13.2, to Kees van Oers and Peter Korsten for very helpful comments on a draft version of this chapter, and to Miho Murayama for her patient editorial assistance. I am grateful to my wife, Petra, for her patience and support during the writing of this chapter and to my children, Finn and Ella, for constantly reminding me how great the mystery surrounding human personality really is.


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© Springer 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for OrnithologySeewiesenGermany
  2. 2.Cawthron InstituteNelsonNew Zealand

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