This paper will argue that understanding animal welfare and the individual vulnerability to stress-related disease requires a fundamental understanding of functional individual variation as it occurs in nature as well as the underlying neurobiology and neuroendocrinology. Ecological studies in feral populations of mice, fish, and birds start to recognize the functional significance of phenotypes that individually differ in their behavioral and neuroendocrine response to environmental challenge. Recent studies indicate that the individual variation within a species may buffer the species for strong fluctuations in the natural habitat. Similarly, evolutionary ancient behavioral trait characteristics have now been identified in a range of domestic farm animals including cattle, pigs, and horses. Individual variation in behavior can be summarized in a 3-dimensional model with coping style, emotionality, and sociality as independent dimensions. These dimensions can be considered trait characteristics that are stable over time and across situations within the individual. This conceptual model has several consequences. First, the coping style dimension is strongly associated with differential stress vulnerability. Social stress studies show that proactive individuals are resilient under stable environmental conditions but vulnerable when outcome expectancies are violated. Reactive individuals are, in fact, rather flexible and seem to adapt more easily to a changing environment. A second consequence relates to genetics and breeding. Genetic selection for one trait usually implies selection for other traits as well. It is discussed that a more balanced breeding program that takes into account biologically functional temperamental traits will lead to more robust domestic farm animals. Finally, the relationship between temperamental traits, animal production, fitness, and welfare is discussed.
- Coping style
- Domestic farm animals