Win-stay/lose-switch, prospecting-based settlement strategy may not be adaptive under rapid environmental change
Journal: 2021/January - BioImpacts
Understanding animal responses to environmental change is crucial for management of ecological traps. Between-year habitat selection was investigated in red-necked grebes (Podiceps grisegena) breeding on semi-natural fish ponds, where differential stocking of fish created contrasting yet poorly predictable brood-stage food availabilities. Grebes lured to low-quality ponds were more likely to shift territories than birds nesting on high-quality ponds, and tended to move to ponds whose habitat quality had been high in the previous year, irrespective of the current quality of the new and old territories. The territory switchers typically visited their future breeding ponds during or immediately after the brood-rearing period. However, owing to rotation of fish stocks, the habitat quality of many ponds changed in the following year, and then switchers from low-quality ponds and stayers on previously high-quality ponds were ecologically trapped. Thus, although breeders were making an informed choice, their settlement decisions, based on the win-stay/lose-switch rule and prospecting a year in advance, were inappropriate in conditions of year-to-year habitat fluctuations. Effective adaptation to rapid environmental change may necessitate both learning to correctly evaluate uncertain environmental cues and abandonment of previously adaptive decision-making algorithms (here prioritizing past-year information and assuming temporal autocorrelation of habitat quality).
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