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 Stephen White

Stephen White

PhD student

 Tremough House 


Tremough House, University of Exeter,  Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK

I am a PhD student in the biosciences department working under the supervision of Alastair Wilson. While my background is in marine biology I have been slowly moving over to behavioural ecology and evolution in recent years, with my masters thesis investigating the effect of copper exposure on fight behaviour and personality in hermit crabs. I did a 3 year stretch as a marine benthic taxonomist in consultancy between degrees before returning to academia.

I am interested in behavioural consistency (or ‘animal personality’), what effects its expression and how it became so prevalent across taxa despite the advantages of plasticity. I currently use statistical techniques to get at the underlying genetic variation and covariation of behavioural, physiological and life history traits in guppies to try to explain the evolution of behavioural consistency.

Broad research specialisms:

  • Evolutionary ecology
  • Animal Personality
  • Quantitative genetics


2008: BSc (Hons) Marine Biology, Bangor University
2012: MRes Marine biology, University of Plymouth


Research projects

Project title: Quantitative genetics of Pace of Life in the guppy, Poecilia reticulata.

Funding body: NERC PhD studentship

Supervisor: Dr Alastair Wilson

Project description
Being able to respond to a heterogeneous environment allows an individual to maximize its fitness in an uncertain world, leading to the assumption that behavioural plasticity should be widespread. It is becoming increasingly apparent that consistency in behaviour (or animal personality) is more common than we would expect, with individuals having relatively fixed behaviours across environments which can at first glance appear maladaptive. One integrative approach to explaining this behavioural consistency is the Pace of Life Syndrome (POLS) hypothesis. The POLS framework states that the life history strategy of an individual should covary with physiology and behaviour and it is this covariation that may drive the development and maintenance of consistency in behaviour.

To investigate the evolution of personality from a POLS perspective I am using a pedigree of guppies to:

  • Tease apart the influence of genetics and environment on the associations between boldness, metabolism and growth.
  • Assess the influence of maternal effects on these associations using maternal and offspring diet manipulation.


White, S.J., Pipe, R.K., Fisher, A. and Briffa, M. (2013). Asymmetric effects of contaminant exposure during asymmetric contests in the hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus. Animal Behaviour 86: 773-781.​

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