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Behavioral flexibility as a mechanism for coping with climate change

July 13, 2017

Of the primary responses to contemporary climate change – “move, adapt, acclimate, or die” – that are available to organisms, “acclimate” may be effectively achieved through behavioral modification. Behavioral flexibility allows animals to rapidly cope with changing environmental conditions, and behavior represents an important component of a species’ adaptive capacity in the face of climate change. However, there is currently a lack of knowledge about the limits or constraints on behavioral responses to changing conditions. Here, we characterize the contexts in which organisms respond to climate variability through behavior. First, we quantify patterns in behavioral responses across taxa with respect to timescales, climatic stimuli, life-history traits, and ecology. Next, we identify existing knowledge gaps, research biases, and other challenges. Finally, we discuss how conservation practitioners and resource managers can incorporate an improved understanding of behavioral flexibility into natural resource management and policy decisions.