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Understanding behavioural responses to human-induced rapid environmental change: a meta-analysis

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Article numbere08366
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/04/2022
Issue number4
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date15/09/21
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Behavioural responses are often the first reaction of an organism to human-induced rapid environmental change (HIREC), yet current empirical evidence provides no consensus about the main environmental features that animals respond to behaviourally or which behaviours are responsive to HIREC. To understand how changes in behaviour can be predicted by different forms of HIREC, we conducted a meta-analysis of the existing empirical literature focusing on behavioural responses to five axes of environmental change (climate change, changes in CO2, direct human impact, changes in nutrients and biotic exchanges) in five behavioural domains (aggression, exploration, activity, boldness and sociability) across a range of taxa but with a focus on fish and bird species. Our meta-analysis revealed a general absence of directional behavioural responses to HIREC. However, the absolute magnitude of the effect sizes was large. This means that animals have strong behavioural responses to HIREC, but the responses are not clearly in any particular direction. Moreover, the absolute magnitude of the effect sizes differed between different behaviours and different forms of HIREC: Exploration responded more strongly than activity, and climate change induced the strongest behavioural responses. Model heterogeneities identified that effect sizes varied primarily because of study design, and the specific sample of individuals used in a study; phylogeny also explains significant variation in our bird model. Based on these results, we make four recommendations to further our understanding: 1) a more balanced representation of laboratory and field studies, 2) consideration of context dependency, 3) standardisation of the methods and definitions used to quantify and study behaviours and 4) consideration of the role for individual differences in behaviour.