Abiotic stressors and the conservation of social species
Human activities have profoundly changed the abiotic environment, which in many cases has resulted in the deterioration of natural ecosystems. This global problem requires collaborative efforts between scientific disciplines and between academics and wildlife managers if we are to preserve the remaining biodiversity. Here I discuss a potential application of behavioral ecology to the conservation of social species in the face of abiotic disturbances. I argue that a key step towards an effective application of behavioral ecology lies in uniting perspectives on the effects of individual-level social behaviors at multiple levels of ecological organization, with perspectives on the effects of human-induced abiotic perturbations on individual-level social responses. I illustrate these linkages by describing how dominance interactions between individuals can affect the structure and stability of groups, populations and communities. Then, I discuss how abiotic perturbations brought about by two key anthropogenic impacts can disrupt dominance relationships and hierarchy stability in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Finally, I describe management implications to highlight the applicability of the framework to predict consequences, prioritize species for conservation effort and suggest management actions. By integrating these perspectives, researchers studying animal societies can articulate a clear conservation message - that is, the impact of human activities on populations and communities can be rapidly and accurately predicted based on the modulation of individual-level social traits caused by abiotic stressors.
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