Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Science in Biology



Major Advisor

Jennifer Forbey, Ph.D.


Pierre-Olivier Montiglio, Ph.D.


Julie Heath, Ph.D.


Understanding population dynamics is at the core of conservation biology. However, our understanding of the mechanisms driving population dynamics remains unclear in many cases. Animal behavior in response to biotic and abiotic stressors is an important driver of these population dynamics and varies both within- and among-individuals in a population. Consistent differences in behavior among individuals within a population are referred to as personality traits. Boldness, a personality trait representing the willingness of an individual to engage in risky behavior, may help predict individual and community-level consequences, such as survivorship. Here, we investigated the inter- and intra-individual variation in risk-taking behavior (i.e., boldness) and the ecological consequences of such variation in a wild population of Piute ground squirrels (Urocitellus mollis). Boldness was quantified using an in-field handling bag test. Response to the handling bag test varied among individuals by sex, age, time in trap before test, season, and year but was consistent within individuals, suggesting that the handling bag test was a reliable measurement of personality (i.e., boldness). We found that boldness had a positive relationship with trappability and a negative relationship with survivorship. Additionally, we found that the effect of boldness on survivorship was higher in females than males and higher for squirrels captured in a habitat with shrub cover than in a habitat with just grass and no shrub cover. Our results suggest that animal personality can predict important life-history consequences, such as survivorship, and could therefore be used to better understand the mechanisms driving population dynamics patterns and better inform population conservation and management practices.