National Projects
Project duration: 
Dec 2005 to Dec 2006

Confronted with alterations in their environment, animals can avoid extinction through the development of behavioural adjustments


A growing body of evidence suggests that behavioural flexibility, whether in the form of innovation or learning, can help animals survive in novel environments, for example by enabling them to find appropriate food resources or to develop responses to novel predators. Despite the progress, there are two major questions that are insufficiently understood: (1) What is the function of learning in the relationship of animals with their environment? And (2) What are the consequences of behavioural flexibility in the response to habitat destruction or climate change?

Here, we will address these two questions using an integrative approach that combinesexperiments and comparative analyses. First, we will use feral pigeons (Columba livia) as species model to test experimentally whether learning helps individuals to survive under conditions of foraging stress. Second, we will use a comparative approach to explore how behaviour flexibility helps birds and mammals respond environmental threats such as habitat destruction or climate change. Using this two-level approach, we hope to clarify the importance of behavioural flexibility as part of the adaptive arsenal with which animals respond to changes in the environment, which hopefully will increase our power to predict how species will be affected by current global environmental changes.