Behavioural responses to human-induced environmental change


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The initial response of individuals to human-induced environmental change is often behavioural. This can improve the performance of individuals under sudden, large-scale perturbations and maintain viable populations. The response can also give additional time for genetic changes to arise and, hence, facilitate adaptation to new conditions. On the other hand, maladaptive responses, which reduce individual fitness, may occur when individuals encounter conditions that the population has not experienced during its evolutionary history, which can decrease population viability. A growing number of studies find human disturbances to induce behavioural responses, both directly and by altering factors that influence fitness. Common causes of behavioural responses are changes in the transmission of information, the concentration of endocrine disrupters, the availability of resources, the possibility of dispersal, and the abundance of interacting species. Frequent responses are alterations in habitat choice, movements, foraging, social behaviour and reproductive behaviour. Behavioural responses depend on the genetically determined reaction norm of the individuals, which evolves over generations. Populations first respond with individual behavioural plasticity, whereafter changes may arise through innovations and the social transmission of behavioural patterns within and across generations, and, finally, by evolution of the behavioural response over generations. Only a restricted number of species show behavioural adaptations that make them thrive in severely disturbed environments. Hence, rapid human-induced disturbances often decrease the diversity of native species, while facilitating the spread of invasive species with highly plastic behaviours. Consequently, behavioural responses to human-induced environmental change can have profound effects on the distribution, adaptation, speciation and extinction of populations and, hence, on biodiversity. A better understanding of the mechanisms of behavioural responses and their causes and consequences could improve our ability to predict the effects of human-induced environmental change on individual species and on biodiversity.