Leadership in the genes of guppies

Guppies
© iStock/crazyartboy

Research conducted at the University of Exeter has highlighted that leadership traits in guppies could be genetic.

Researchers from the University of Exeter have studied leadership in guppies by selectively breeding the fish that differed in how likely they were to lead a scouting party to examine a predator.

The team of researchers created 30 breeding pairs of the males and female most likely to lead, in addition to 30 breeding pairs of the fish that showed the lowest levels of leadership.

After three generations, researchers tested males and female from these lines, researchers found that there were “pronounced differences in leadership tendency” among the two groups, with descendants of leaders being more likely to lead.

The male fish that were bread for low leadership presented more aggressive and less sociable traits. Alternatively, the male that were bread for high leadership should positive sign of social development with the females not being affected by the experiment.

“We wanted to know how much leadership is an inherited characteristic, and whether it’s linked to other traits,” said Sylvia Dimitriadou, of the University of Exeter.

“It seems leadership among guppies is partly inherited – around a third can be explained by their pedigree, with other factors such as their social and physical environment also key.

“Among males, this appears to be linked to other social traits such as lower aggression (measured by whether fish share food or try to push rivals away) and sociability (moving as part of a shoal and switching between shoals).

“In females, leadership also passed down the generations, but without observable changes to other aspects of behaviour.

“It’s not clear why this is. In guppies, female and male cooperative and social behaviour differs, so it’s possible that certain traits co-evolve or co-develop differently among females and males.”

Traits such as boldness and tendency to explore did not diverge between the two breading line, meaning it was only social traits that seemed to differ alongside leadership in males.

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