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Extinction or Survival? Behavioral Flexibility in Response to Environmental Change in the African Striped Mouse Rhabdomys

Listed author(s):
  • Tasmin L. Rymer


    (School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, WITS 2050, South Africa
    School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, P. O. Box 6811, Cairns, QLD 4870, Australia)

  • Neville Pillay


    (School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, WITS 2050, South Africa)

  • Carsten Schradin


    (School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, WITS 2050, South Africa
    Université de Strasbourg, IPHC-DEPE, 23 rue Bequerel, 67087 Strasbourg, France
    CNRS, UMR7178, 67087 Strasbourg, France)

Registered author(s):

    The rapid rate of anthropogenic-related climate change is expected to severely impact ecosystems and their constituent organisms, leading to mass extinction. A rapid adaptive response of animals to such change could be due to reversible phenotypic flexibility, including behavioral flexibility. Our model, the African striped mouse Rhabdomys , is a small rodent widely distributed in southern Africa. The desert-living species R. pumilio displays social flexibility, whereby individuals switch their social organization in response to prevailing conditions, potentially allowing for persistence in rapidly changing environments. Individuals of the species from the moist grasslands ( R. dilectus ) show some flexible traits, but opportunities to utilize this potential are apparently not realized. The climate in southern Africa is predicted to become drier, making both desert and grassland species vulnerable to environmental change. Based on realized or potential social flexibility in striped mice, we provide three (not mutually exclusive) scenarios that consider: (i) extinction of the desert species as its habitat changes; (ii) range expansion and utilization of pre-existing adaptations of the desert species to displace the current grassland species; and (iii) grassland species exploiting their potential flexibility (behavioral adaptation) and surviving in their current habitat. Behavioral flexibility is costly but could allow species to persist in rapidly changing environments.

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    Article provided by MDPI, Open Access Journal in its journal Sustainability.

    Volume (Year): 5 (2013)
    Issue (Month): 1 (January)
    Pages: 1-24

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    Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:5:y:2013:i:1:p:163-186:d:22780
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    1. Paul Collier & Gordon Conway & Tony Venables, 2008. "Climate change and Africa," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 24(2), pages 337-353, Summer.
    2. Carsten Schradin & Neville Pillay, 2005. "The influence of the father on offspring development in the striped mouse," Behavioral Ecology, International Society for Behavioral Ecology, vol. 16(2), pages 450-455, March.
    3. Jan A. Randall & Konstantin Rogovin & Patricia G. Parker & John A. Eimes, 2005. "Flexible social structure of a desert rodent, Rhombomys opimus: philopatry, kinship, and ecological constraints," Behavioral Ecology, International Society for Behavioral Ecology, vol. 16(6), pages 961-973, November.
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