The epigenetics of animal personality

Kees van Oers* (Corresponding author), Krista van den Heuvel, Bernice Sepers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Animal personality, consistent individual differences in behaviour, is an important concept for understanding how individuals vary in how they cope with environmental challenges. In order to understand the evolutionary significance of animal personality, it is crucial to understand the underlying regulatory mechanisms. Epigenetic marks such as DNA methylation are hypothesised to play a major role in explaining variation in phenotypic changes in response to environmental alterations. Several characteristics of DNA methylation also align well with the concept of animal personality. In this review paper, we summarise the current literature on the role that molecular epigenetic mechanisms may have in explaining personality variation. We elaborate on the potential for epigenetic mechanisms to explain behavioural variation, behavioural development and temporal consistency in behaviour. We then suggest future routes for this emerging field and point to potential pitfalls that may be encountered. We conclude that a more inclusive approach is needed for studying the epigenetics of animal personality and that epigenetic mechanisms cannot be studied without considering the genetic background.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105194
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • Adaptation
  • DNA methylation
  • Personality
  • Plasticity
  • Reaction norm

Research theme

  • Biodiversity


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