Does personality affect habitat use by common brushtail possums on the urban fringe? (#296)
Animals living on the urban fringe have a choice between two very different environments: Houses and gardens with many roads versus natural plant communities or farmland. These environments likely vary in the quality of food they provide and the risks involved in accessing it. For small arboreal animals, urban areas may provide higher quality food, but higher risk from dogs, cats and traffic. How animals perceive habitat quality, especially risk, should affect their choices. As animal personality defines an individual’s perception of and response to the environment, personality should also affect habitat use. Here we test whether predictable personality traits affect habitat use by a nocturnal arboreal herbivore, the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) on the urban boundary with open eucalypt forest near Sydney, NSW. We tracked brushtail possums using GPS collars every 3 minutes nightly (7-26 days), and conducted personality tests for all animals. We calculated range size from the 95% isopleth of the Brownian bridge movement model (BBMM), and core area size from 50% BBMM. We found that the proportion of core area spent in urban habitats varied between 7% and 83%, and we related this to the three personality axes; exploration, boldness and activity. This is the first study to quantify habitat use as a function of personality in mammals. We suggest that animal personality provides an additional important axis needed to explain intra-specific variation in habitat use, with significant implications to how we define and conserve high quality habitat for free living animals.