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Assessing personality in San Joaquin kit fox in situ: efficacy of field-based experimental methods and implications for conservation management

Bremner-Harrison, Samantha, Cypher, Brian L., Van Horn Job, Christine, Harrison, Stephen W. R.
Journal of ethology 2018 v.36 no.1 pp. 23-33
Vulpes macrotis, age structure, labor, wild animals
Utilisation of animal personality has potential benefit for conservation management. Due to logistics of robust behavioural evaluation in situ, the majority of studies on wild animals involve taking animals into captivity for testing, potentially compromising results. Three in situ tests for evaluation of boldness in San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica) were developed (ENOT: extended novel object test; RNOT: rapid novel object test; TH: trap/handling test). Each test successfully identified variation in boldness within its target age class(es). The TH test was suitable for use across all age classes. Tests were assessed for in situ suitability and for quantity/quality of data yielded. ENOT was rated as requiring high levels of time, cost and labour with greater likelihood of failure. However, it was rated highly for data quantity/quality. The TH test was rated as requiring little time, labour and cost, but yielding lower quality data. RNOT was rated in the middle. Each test had merit and could be adapted to suit project or species constraints. We recommend field-based evaluation of personality, reducing removal of animals from the wild and facilitating routine incorporation of personality assessment into conservation projects.