1 Tahrcountry Musings: Understanding the relevance of Ecological Traps

Monday, March 12, 2012

Understanding the relevance of Ecological Traps

How the type of anthropogenic change alters the consequences of ecological traps
Robert J. Fletcher Jr, John L. Orrock, and Bruce A. Robertson
 Proc. R. Soc. B, Published online before print February 29, 2012, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.0139

To understand species responses to rapid environmental change a proper understanding of ecological and evolutionary dynamics in novel environments is vital. One fundamental concept relevant in this respect is the ecological trap.

 Ecological trap arises from rapid anthropogenic change and can be a causative factor for extinction. The researchers here say ecological traps occur when formerly adaptive habitat preferences become maladaptive because the cues individuals preferentially use in selecting habitats lead to lower fitness than other alternatives. Traps can arise from different types of anthropogenic change but the resulting consequences of these different types of traps remain unknown.

Using a novel model framework that builds upon the Price equation from evolutionary genetics, the researchers provide the first analysis that contrasts the ecological and evolutionary consequences of ecological traps arising from two general types of perturbations known to trigger traps. Their model suggests that traps arising from degradation of existing habitats are more likely to facilitate extinction than those arising from the addition of novel trap habitat. The framework also reveals the mechanisms of these outcomes and the substantial scope for persistence via rapid evolution that may buffer many populations from extinction. The framework will also come in handy to resolve the paradox of continued persistence of many species in dramatically altered landscapes.

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