The effect of maternal glucocorticoid levels on juvenile docility in yellow-bellied marmots

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Maternal effects can have significant and long-term consequences on offspring behavior and survival, while consistent individual differences (i.e., personality) can have profound impacts on individual fitness. Thus, both can influence population dynamics. However, the underlying mechanisms that determine variation in personality traits are poorly understood. Maternal effects are one potential mechanism that may explain personality variation. We capitalized on a long-term study of yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) to identify maternal effects on juvenile docility. To do so, we partitioned the variance in juvenile docility using a quantitative genetic modeling approach to isolate potential maternal effects. We also directly tested whether maternal stress, measured through fecal glucocorticoid metabolite levels during lactation of 82 mothers, was associated with offspring docility. Docility scores were estimated for 645 juveniles trapped between 2002 and 2012. We found an interaction between maternal glucocorticoid levels and dam age on juvenile docility. We also found significant maternal, litter, permanent environment, and year effects. These results suggest that a mother's life history stage interacts with stress to influence offspring personality. This early life influence can have long lasting effects on an individual's docility throughout life.

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