Staying in Place: Site Fidelity as a Maladaptive Strategy in the Anthropocene

Dr Briana Abrahms1, Dr Jerod Merkle2, Dr Jonathan B Armstrong3, Dr Hall Sawyer4, Dr Daniel P Costa5, Dr Anna D Chalfoun2,6

1NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Monterey, United States, 2University of Wyoming, Department of Zoology and Physiology, Laramie, United States, 3Oregon State University, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Corvallis, United States, 4Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc, Cheyenne, United States, 5University of California-Santa Cruz, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Santa Cruz, United States, 6U.S. Geological Survey, Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Laramie, United States

Evolutionary traps, in which an animal’s behavior becomes maladaptive due to Human-Induced Rapid Environmental Change (HIREC), are an emerging threat to species in the Anthropocene. Site fidelity, in which individuals are faithful to previously-visited sites, is a widespread behavioral strategy that may not only hinder range shifts but also cause evolutionary traps under these changing conditions. Although site fidelity is found across numerous taxa and has important ecological implications, it evolved in more predictable conditions than that of the Anthropocene. Organisms that do not, or cannot, adapt to these novel conditions may experience population declines or extinction. We present two empirical case studies and synthesize research across taxa and ecosystems to outline the pathways through which site fidelity can become maladaptive. In addition, we discuss adaptive mechanisms that may enable species with strong fidelity to persist given HIREC, and provide suggestions for studying and conserving this widespread behavioral phenomenon. As site fidelity may serve as an ecological mechanism hindering range shifts, understanding its causes and consequences has important conservation implications in an era of unprecedented environmental change.


Briana is a Research Ecologist in NOAA’s Southwest Science Center Environmental Research Division. She received her PhD from UC Berkeley in wildlife ecology and her research focuses on the spatial and behavioral responses of wildlife to environmental change.

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