Extinction or survival? Behavioral flexibility in response to environmental change in the African striped mouse Rhabdomys

Rymer, Tasmin L., Pillay, Neville, and Schradin, Carsten (2013) Extinction or survival? Behavioral flexibility in response to environmental change in the African striped mouse Rhabdomys. Sustainability, 5 (1). pp. 163-186.

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Abstract

The rapid rate of anthropogenic-related climate change is expected to severely impact ecosystems and their constituent organisms, leading to mass extinction. A rapid adaptive response of animals to such change could be due to reversible phenotypic flexibility, including behavioral flexibility. Our model, the African striped mouse Rhabdomys, is a small rodent widely distributed in southern Africa. The desert-living species R. pumilio displays social flexibility, whereby individuals switch their social organization in response to prevailing conditions, potentially allowing for persistence in rapidly changing environments. Individuals of the species from the moist grasslands (R. dilectus) show some flexible traits, but opportunities to utilize this potential are apparently not realized. The climate in southern Africa is predicted to become drier, making both desert and grassland species vulnerable to environmental change. Based on realized or potential social flexibility in striped mice, we provide three (not mutually exclusive) scenarios that consider: (i) extinction of the desert species as its habitat changes; (ii) range expansion and utilization of pre-existing adaptations of the desert species to displace the current grassland species; and (iii) grassland species exploiting their potential flexibility (behavioral adaptation) and surviving in their current habitat. Behavioral flexibility is costly but could allow species to persist in rapidly changing environments.

Item ID: 29785
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2071-1050
Keywords: adaptation; anthropogenic impact; behavioral flexibility; climate change; intra-specific variation in social organization; phenotypic flexibility; phenotypic plasticity; Rhabdomys; social flexibility
Additional Information:

© 2013 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).

Funders: Swiss National Science Foundation, German Science Foundation, National Research Foundation, South Africa, Zürcher Hochschulve-rein, Vontobel-Stiftung, Holcim-Stiftung, Claude Leon Harris Foundation, Julius Klaus-Stiftung, Schweizer Akademie der Naturwissenschaften, Ethologische Gesellschaft, Helene-BieberFonds, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Zurich
Date Deposited: 05 Nov 2013 06:31
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0608 Zoology > 060801 Animal Behaviour @ 33%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0603 Evolutionary Biology > 060399 Evolutionary Biology not elsewhere classified @ 33%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0603 Evolutionary Biology > 060306 Evolutionary Impacts of Climate Change @ 34%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 33%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9603 Climate and Climate Change > 960399 Climate and Climate Change not elsewhere classified @ 33%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960811 Sparseland, Permanent Grassland and Arid Zone Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 34%
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