Fast behavioral feedbacks make ecosystems sensitive to pace and not just magnitude of anthropogenic environmental change. Journal Article uri icon



  • Anthropogenic environmental change is altering the behavior of animals in ecosystems around the world. Although behavior typically occurs on much faster timescales than demography, it can nevertheless influence demographic processes. Here, we use detailed data on behavior and empirical estimates of demography from a coral reef ecosystem to develop a coupled behavioral-demographic ecosystem model. Analysis of the model reveals that behavior and demography feed back on one another to determine how the ecosystem responds to anthropogenic forcing. In particular, an empirically observed feedback between the density and foraging behavior of herbivorous fish leads to alternative stable ecosystem states of coral population persistence or collapse (and complete algal dominance). This feedback makes the ecosystem more prone to coral collapse under fishing pressure but also more prone to recovery as fishing is reduced. Moreover, because of the behavioral feedback, the response of the ecosystem to changes in fishing pressure depends not only on the magnitude of changes in fishing but also on the pace at which changes are imposed. For example, quickly increasing fishing to a given level can collapse an ecosystem that would persist under more gradual change. Our results reveal conditions under which the pace and not just the magnitude of external forcing can dictate the response of ecosystems to environmental change. More generally, our multiscale behavioral-demographic framework demonstrates how high-resolution behavioral data can be incorporated into ecological models to better understand how ecosystems will respond to perturbations.

publication date

  • October 13, 2020

has restriction

  • bronze

Date in CU Experts

  • August 30, 2023 2:12 AM

Full Author List

  • Gil MA; Baskett ML; Munch SB; Hein AM

author count

  • 4

Other Profiles

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1091-6490

Additional Document Info

start page

  • 25580

end page

  • 25589


  • 117


  • 41