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Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Role of Animal Behavior in Wildlife Management

It is important to define the role that animal behavior can play in wildlife
conservation and management. Problems in wildlife management are a subset
of the global environmental problems that are of interest to conservation
biology. Major ecological problems include the wholesale loss of species
through habitat destruction; the pollution of air, soil, and water; the introduction
of exotic species (including domestic animals, parasites, and
pathogens); and the alteration of global biogeochemical cycles. Knowledge of
animal behavior is not the sole key to solving global conservation problems;
but then, paradoxically, neither is any branch of ecology or any other science.
Indeed, biologists do not make the important decisions that affect species

extinction and people’s continued ability to benefit from functional ecosystems.
Such decisions are the purview of politicians and business leaders, who
are primarily interested in political and economic goals and are therefore
much more influenced by political and economic processes than by science
(Morowitz 1991).
Changes in socioeconomic circumstances are also important. For example,
immediately following World War II, agriculture was the main occupation in
several southern European countries. People were widely distributed over the
countryside. Almost all natural resources were exploited, including lands
with low productivity. Following industrialization in the mid-1960s, much of

CHAPTER 1—General Introduction

the land that was either hilly or mountainous was abandoned as people
sought a more comfortable lifestyle in cities. Space and resources in the
abandoned countryside became available for wildlife. Urbanization may thus
explain the recent recovery of wildlife in Europe more than any other
economic or biological process. In North America, increased affluence, good
rural road networks, and ability to work from home are instead leading to
suburbanization of wildlife habitat, with negative consequences for biodiversity,
especially of large predators.
Everyone can make “minor” decisions with environmental consequences,
from not eating seafood caught with methods causing extensive bycatch of
nontarget species, to not building a home on critical habitat, to family planning,
to voting patterns in democratic societies. Zoologists, including animal
behaviorists, clearly play a major role in the conservation of biodiversity by
informing decision makers and the general public about the ecological
consequences of human activities. Solving the global conservation problems
that threaten our quality of life, and in some cases our very lives, will require
scientific knowledge, but first and foremost it will require a better system of
economic valuation of goods and services. Economic externalities such as
pollution, habitat destruction, and the loss of ecological functions (including
those that provide clean air, safe drinking water, and a stable climate) must
be incorporated in the evaluation of different activities (Chichilnisky and
Heal 1998). Perhaps the greatest contribution that ecologists can make to
environmental conservation is to convince decision makers at all levels, from
heads of state to individual consumers, to think about the long-term consequences
of their decisions.
Behavioral ecologists typically study the long-term evolutionary consequences
of different animal behaviors. As a result, when examining the
consequences of human actions, they usually consider a longer timescale
than the few years to the next election, or this year’s balance sheet, or the
time it takes to win one particular court case. It is essential that they transmit
such long-term thinking to other sectors of society.
Students of animal behavior can provide an extremely important
approach to wildlife conservation because of their tendency to examine individual
differences, to emphasize the role of variability, and to think in terms
of trade-offs between different behavioral strategies. Such emphasis on the
behavior of individuals and the strategies they adopt to maximize fitness
plays an important role when a species’ natural behavior can lead to conservation
problems in habitats altered by humans. In extreme and rare cases,
the best management strategy may be to interfere with a species’ natural
The study of animal behavior is most usefully applied to the conservation

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