Linking behaviour to populations and communities: how can behavioural ecology inform conservation?

The most immediate response of animals to human-induced environmental change is behavioural. This can have profound repercussions at the population and community level and is therefore of crucial relevance to conservation. This NERC/ZSL symposium will bring together leading experts in behavioural ecology and conservation to explore how behavioural ecologists can make a difference in support of conservation by relating their research to ecosystem processes.

The meeting will critically assess the role of the behavioural ecological community in addressing conservation priorities so far and aims to inspire future conservation-oriented research and action with real impact. Now is a highly promising time for progress in this direction because of the emergence of strong analytical tools and conceptual advances in behavioural ecology in recent years, developments which have yet to find their way fully into the conservation arena.

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Jakob Bro-Jørgensen, University of Liverpool
Daniel W Franks, University of York
Kristine Meise, University of Liverpool

Confirmed speakers

Daniel Blumstein, University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA)

Oded Berger-Tal, Ben Gurion University

Ulrika Candolin, Helsinki University

Tim Caro, University of California - Davis

Sarah Durant, Zoological Society of London

Sam Ellis, Exeter University

Jennifer Gill, University of East Anglia

James Herrera, Duke University

Kay Holekamp, Michigan State University

Kavita Isvaran, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore

Kristine Meise, University of Liverpool

E.J. Milner-Gulland, University of Oxford

Kevin Parker, Parker Conservation

Elizabeth Parlato, Massey University

Bernt-Erik Sæther, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Matthew Silk, Exeter University

Daniel Sol, CREAF, Spain

Colleen Cassady St. Clair, University of Alberta

Natascia Tamburello, ESSA TEchnologies Ltd and Simon Fraser University

Joseph Tobias, Imperial College London

George Wittemyer, Colorado State University

Blog post: student perspective

Margaret Peng, BSc Biological Sciences, UCL

As a third-year undergraduate class, we have spent the past term exploring behavioural ecology and linking various changing behaviours to their anthropogenic causes. Attending the ZSL symposium Linking behaviour to populations and communities: how can behavioural ecology inform conservation? was the perfect opportunity for us to consolidate our knowledge and see the current research in this field.

The symposium spanned two days and was held at ZSL in Regent’s Park, London. It aimed to explore how understanding behaviour can inform conservation and use this knowledge to change human actions or put protective measures in place. In particular, the issue of habitat loss and fragmentation was discussed. Colleen Cassady St Clair, from the University of Alberta, presented a case study on the relationship between grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) and the railways that carve through their habitat. This is a particular concern as train strikes are now the biggest cause of grizzly bear mortality in Banff, Canada. It is thought that there is no specific attractant for the bears but rather, they struggle with perceiving and adapting to the dangerous railways. This suggests that warning mechanisms could be employed along the railway to facilitate such learning. Professor St Clair has shown that understanding behaviour aids our understanding of both the causes of an ecological problem and the solutions that could be implemented.

J Bro-Jorgensen

Further areas of discussion included pollution and invasive species and human-wildlife conflict: the symposium highlighted the many anthropogenic changes inflicted by humans upon the natural world. It also served to show that there is hope for the future and that there is a lot of further work that needs to be done to combat the changes. In particular, Sarah Durant, of the Institute of Zoology, raised the question of how best to share scientific research between scientists and conservation managers as a disconnection between the two leads to inefficient conservation. This problem shows that good conservation needs a strong scientific basis complemented with excellent communication amongst the conservation community.

A similar sentiment was echoed by Tim Caro of University of California, Davies. He suggested that scientists studying charismatic species can have a strong influence in establishing a conservation programme which can then be maintained by scientific understanding of animal behaviour. This further suggests that strong communication networks are essential for effective conservation. This provides a goal for the future of conservation and has shown that conservation is a multi-faceted discipline.

Overall, the two days of talks put into context the key concepts in behavioural ecology which we’ve been learning about, and helped us to understand the role that behavioural sciences can play in determining the impact of the changing world on animal populations.





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