Effective field-based methods to quantify personality in brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula)

Valentina S A Mella*, Jordan Krucler, Lakshmi Sunderasan, Jason Hawkins, Anushika P H M Herath, Kyla C. Johnstone, Sandra M. Troxell-Smith, Peter B. Banks, Clare Mcarthur

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Context There is growing recognition of the importance of animal personality in wildlife ecology and management. Individuals that differ consistently in their behaviours from others of the same population are considered to exhibit different personalities. Personality can be easily quantified with repeat tests on animals held in captivity. However, captive-based tests may not always be possible for logistical reasons and tests conducted in captivity can alter naturally occurring behaviours. Development of methods to assess personality in the field over short-term capture is an important alternative to long-term captive tests. Aims To develop and refine field-based tests that can be used to easily define personality traits of wild common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), eliminating the need to bring individuals into captivity for an extended period of time. Methods We developed a series of short-term capture protocols to quantify personality traits of the common brushtail possum in the field, using handling-bag tests, modified open-field tests, trap-behaviour tests and release tests. Key results Personality traits of brushtail possums could be measured in several different ways, but refining methods was crucial to reveal traits efficiently. Behaviours related to several personality traits (boldness, docility and activity/exploration) could be measured rapidly in the field with our methods, and were repeatable over time. Conclusions Rapid, reliable and easy-to-perform quantification of personality of brushtail possums in the field is possible. This may sometimes be the only available option, and has advantages over long captive trials in terms of animal welfare and cost. Implications The present study provides a baseline for future research on the personality of common brushtail possums and its application to management and control strategies for the species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)332-340
Number of pages9
JournalWildlife Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • activity
  • boldness
  • docility
  • exploration


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