Conservation Biology- Lecture 5 Role of Animal Behaviour in Conservation Biology

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Endangered species: is living in a small population a bad thing???

  • Endangered populations are small
  • Small populations are at greater risk of extinction
  • Berger (1990) studied 120 populations of the bighorn sheep in N. America. Small populations (with fewer than 50 individuals) were more likely to become extinct within 50 years. 
  • Multiple factors interact to drive species past point of recovery 

Animal behaviour affects population dynamics often through Allee effects 

The Allee effect (Allee 1931, 1938) for smaller populations, the reproduction and survival rates of individuals increases with population density 

For populations below a CRITICAL SIZE, the death rate is higher than birth rate, so with every generation the population gets smaller and smaller

Behaviours that can affect extinction risk

1) Movement patterns: - Dispersal - Migration - Orientation - Immigration/ emigration rates 

2) Habitat use: - Ecological traps - Ground nesting (susceptible to introduced predators) - Ranging behaviour - Breeding near edge habitats (susceptible to predators, road traffic, brood parasites) 

3) Social behaviour and organization: -Hierarchies (e.g. elephants and wolves) -Communication -Staging during migration (e.g. shorebirds) -Anti-predator and vigilance behaviour 

4) Breeding behaviour: - Mate choice - Nest site selection - Social facilitation of reproduction - Reproductive suppression - Synchronous and cooperative breeding - Lek mating systems - Inbreeding - Hybridization at low popnʼ levels 

5) Foraging behaviour - Co-operative hunting (e.g. lions) - Conspecific attraction (e.g. vultures) - Ecological traps 


Dispersal = one way movement away from natal site

Migration = round-trip movement to facilitate breeding/overwinter survival usually in non-random direction


  • Higher risk of mortality (predation/ hunting)
  • Isolation for species which have limited dispersal distances
  • Sensitivity to reduced gene flow
  • Sensitivity to habitat destruction 

Short distance disperser limited by patch size and distance between patches, e.g. Silver spotter skipper butterfly.

 Immigration & emigration higher in small patches.


Many large predators live in fragmented habitats - risk is when animals come in…


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