Behavioral Indicators for Conserving Mammal Diversity Academic Article uri icon


  • Mammals are threatened with population decline and extinction. Numerous species require immediate conservation intervention. But our ability to identify species on the brink of decline, and to intervene successfully, depends on developing reliable leading indicators of population, community, and environmental change. Classic approaches, such as population and life history assessment, as well as indicator species, trail environmental change. Adaptive behaviors honed by natural selection to respond quickly to environmental changes represent true leading indicators that we can learn to apply to conservation and management. Excellent examples of useful behaviors for conservation include foraging behavior, patch use, and habitat selection. Comparisons among giving-up densities collected in artificial resource patches can effectively indicate the forager's predation costs, its habitat quality, mechanisms of coexistence, and environmental richness. Patterns of adaptive habitat use can similarly reveal the relative value of different types of habitat, the location, and amounts of source versus sink habitat in a landscape, the effects of human disturbance, and projections on future extinction risk. Each behavior is likely to change more quickly than population size. As useful as these and related indicators may be to managers and conservationists, similar behaviors can emerge from different causes, and immediate returns of behavior to fitness may cause rapid evolution of associated morphological and physiological traits. Conservation strategies will thereby often be most effective if they build on research programs targeting the processes influencing adaptive behaviors and that assess whether wild-type or novel behaviors are most likely to sustain populations into the future.

publication date

  • April 21, 2009