Abiotic stressors and the conservation of social species (#857)
Human activities have profoundly changed the abiotic environment resulting in the deterioration of natural ecosystems in many cases. This global problem requires extensive collaboration if we are to preserve biodiversity. Here I discuss a potential application of behavioural ecology to the conservation of social species in the face of abiotic disturbances. A key step lies in uniting research on the effects of individual-level social behaviours at higher levels of ecological organisation, with research on the effects of abiotic perturbations on individual-level social behaviours. I illustrate these linkages by describing how dominance interactions between individuals affects higher level structure and stability of groups, populations and communities. Then, I discuss how changes to the abiotic environment in response to human activities can disrupt dominance relationships and hierarchy stability in terrestrial and aquatic organisms. Finally, I discuss the management applications of this integrative framework which enables us to predict consequences of human activities and prioritise species for conservation. By uniting these fields of research, behavioural ecologists can articulate a clear conservation message - that the impact of human activities at population and community levels can be predicted based on the modulation of individual-level social traits in response to changes in the abiotic environment.