Skip to main content

Predicting extinction risk in declining species: The role of behavioral and ecological traits

Final Report Summary - VULNERABILITY TRAITS (Predicting extinction risk in declining species: The role of behavioral and ecological traits)

Understanding and predicting the response of animal populations to anthropogenic activity is a major challenge in biodiversity conservation. Species are not equally affected by habitat loss and degradation. However, our current understanding of what makes some species more vulnerable than others is fragmentary, and we have limited tools to use that information for the management and assessment of imperiled populations. Identifying life history, ecological, and behavioral (LEB) traits associated with vulnerability could significantly improve conservation efforts by prioritising research and encouraging proactive actions. Similarly, generating population models that explicitly consider these key traits and their interactions will strengthen our ability to evaluate and manage populations at risk.

As part of my Marie Curie Intra-European fellowship I have contributed to these goals in several ways. First, I generated a large database of life-history, ecological and behavioral trait data for the 79 mammals in the families Canidae, Felidae and Ursidae to allow for more detailed analyses of life-history and population dynamics. The comprehensive database includes 9913 records compiled from 1275 distinct sources. Second, I provide the first detailed quantification of biases associated with data availability and to explore how these biases affect our ability to link species'traits with extinction risk. This work was presented at an international conference, at an invited seminar at Imperial College in London, and in a manuscript that has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Animal Ecology. Third, I have explored how distinct traits and importantly, intraspecific variability, influences risk of extinction in mammals. The resulting manuscript is currently under review. In both of these manuscripts I have explored different techniques to address the need for phylogenetic correction in comparative studies which is a debated issue. Fourth, in collaboration with a Master's student I have explored the relationship between existing threats, risk of extinction and intrinsic traits in mammals. A manuscript, including the student as a coauthor, is currently in preparation. Fifth, I currently co-supervise two PhD students who are working to understand how extrinsic factors influence risk of extinction, and to explore species range dynamics in relationship to vulnerability to extinction. Finally, I am collaborating with colleagues at the Estaci?n Biol?gica de Do?ana to explore the mechanisms by which relative brain size influences risk of extinction.

The final results of the fellowship include the high profile publications mentioned above and several future studies based on the comprehensive dataset I generated. I also aim to make the complete dataset publicly available in the near future to encourage its use by others. Overall, understanding common vulnerability traits can encourage more effective and proactive management and help prioritise research by focusing the initial collection of data on the key traits. The work completed during the Marie Curie fellowship contributes to these goals and also will facilitate access to gathered, ready-to-use data when the compiled database is made available.