Department of Behavioural Biology
Institute for Neuro- and Behavioural Biology
D-48149 Münster, Germany
Understanding how individuals adapt to changing environments has been a key focus of ecology, evolutionary biology and behavioural ecology for decades. Nowadays, answering this question is central when we – humans – are drastically changing ecosystems at a large scale and in a short amount of time. Human-induced rapid environmental change (HIREC), such as urbanisation, has been documented to severely reduce biodiversity affecting ecological function of biomes. Yet, there are examples of various species who colonise and successfully establish in human-made environments.
In cities, where spatial-temporal environmental heterogeneity is high, it seems most relevant to analyse animal movement (e.g., home range and core area) combined with feeding strategies to understand the processes of individual niche creation and their dynamics over time. In this process of adjustment to urbanisation, previous studies suggest an important role of among-individual differences in average behaviour and behavioural flexibility in exploration, risk-taking or aggressiveness. Increasing evidence shows that such differences in behavioural profiles among individuals offer a potential for niche specialisation which affect the distribution of individuals over the habitat matrix. In addition, certain individuals – due to their behavioural types – could be favoured due to their ability to rapidly adjust and vary their niches. However, it is still unclear how among-individuals differences in behaviours and niche specialisation articulate and participate to adaptation to a changing environment. Therefore, I would like to unravel the role of individualised habitat and feeding niche variation to mitigate HIREC for urbanisation.
In the first part of the project, I aim to investigate if within and between individual variation differs between populations of rural and urban habitats across various phenotypic traits (e.g., stress response, flight initiation distance, exploration). With a meta-analysis I want to get insights on whether we observe any constraint on individual variation due to urbanisation and discuss the potential ecological and evolutionary consequences of such changes.
In the second part of the project, the goal is to empirically characterise the individualised niche in the city and compared it with the individualised niche of rural area in small mammals. It will focus on home range and core area, feeding niche, and include other individuals’ traits such behaviour, physiology and extrinsic traits (e.g., social environment) to investigate possible underlying adaptive trait correlations. Overall, we would discover the key behaviours suitable for urbanised niche.
In the third part of the project, the aim is to evaluate if there are individual variation differences in niche expression between urban and rural populations using models and simulations based on at least two cities. In addition, with a semi-natural experiment, we seek to manipulate individual variation in sub-population to test how change in present individual variation affects the dynamics of niche creation and establishment for individuals. We would learn whether individual use preferentially niche conformance, construction or choice, in function of their behavioural profiles and social environment.