While there are now a number of theoretical models predicting how consistent individual differences in behaviour may be generated and maintained, so far, there are few empirical tests. The social niche specialization hypothesis predicts that repeated social interactions among individuals may generate among-individual differences and reinforce within-individual consistency through positive feedback mechanisms. Here, we test this hypothesis using groups of the social spider Stegodyphus mimosarum that differ in their level of familiarity. In support of the social niche specialization hypothesis, individuals in groups of spiders that were more familiar with each other showed greater repeatable among-individual variation in behaviour. Additionally, individuals that were more familiar with each other exhibited lower within-individual variation in behaviour, providing one of the first examples of how the social environment can influence behavioural consistency. Our study demonstrates the potential for the social environment to generate and reinforce consistent individual differences in behaviour and provides a potentially general mechanism to explain this type of behavioural variation in animals with stable social groups.
- Received December 3, 2013.
- Accepted February 28, 2014.
- © 2014 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.