Evolution and behavioural responses to human-induced rapid environmental change

Evol Appl. 2011 Mar;4(2):367-87. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-4571.2010.00166.x.


Almost all organisms live in environments that have been altered, to some degree, by human activities. Because behaviour mediates interactions between an individual and its environment, the ability of organisms to behave appropriately under these new conditions is crucial for determining their immediate success or failure in these modified environments. While hundreds of species are suffering dramatically from these environmental changes, others, such as urbanized and pest species, are doing better than ever. Our goal is to provide insights into explaining such variation. We first summarize the responses of some species to novel situations, including novel risks and resources, habitat loss/fragmentation, pollutants and climate change. Using a sensory ecology approach, we present a mechanistic framework for predicting variation in behavioural responses to environmental change, drawing from models of decision-making processes and an understanding of the selective background against which they evolved. Where immediate behavioural responses are inadequate, learning or evolutionary adaptation may prove useful, although these mechanisms are also constrained by evolutionary history. Although predicting the responses of species to environmental change is difficult, we highlight the need for a better understanding of the role of evolutionary history in shaping individuals' responses to their environment and provide suggestion for future work.

Keywords: anthropogenic stressors; behaviour; detection theory; ecological traps; environmental change; exotic predators; habitat loss; sensory ecology.