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Animals' Behavior Can Hasten Their Extinction

These days a species' behavior may not be in its best interests because what works in undisturbed habitats may no longer apply in those altered by people. But most plans for conserving endangered species fail to account for behavior, says Michael Reed of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.

Examples of behavior that contributes to extinction include:

    Cape vultures like to perch on high roosts while foraging--but roosting on electric wires can lead to electrocution.

    Newell's shearwaters are attracted to nocturnal light--but flying into lights on cars and buildings often results in death.

    Least Bell's vireos nest along habitat edges--but today their habitat is so fragmented that the edges are highly susceptible to predators.

Instead of ignoring species' behavior, we should use it to help conserve them, says Reed. Seabirds that nest in colonies are attracted to existing colonies, a behavior that makes it hard to reestablish colonies that have died out. But biologists have started new breeding colonies by "populating" them with decoys. Similarly, sharp-tailed grouse like to congregate on mating grounds called leks and biologists have created new leks by playing recordings of grouse calls. Biologists have also attracted young griffon vultures to cliff faces by using white paint to mimic droppings.

While Reed focused on birds, his findings apply to many other kinds of animals from insects to mammals.


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Contact: Michael Reed
mreed@emerald.tufts.edu
617-627-3544
Society for Conservation Biology
30-Mar-1999


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