A new approach to understand how animals behave when exposed to multiple stressors

By Robin Hale, Jeremy J. Piggott, and Stephen E. Swearer .

Describing and understanding behavioral responses to multiple stressors and multiple stimuli

Describing and understanding behavioral responses to multiple stressors and multiple stimuli

This article was published  online in Ecology and Evolution on 29th November 2016 and can be found here http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ece3.2609 (open access). For more information please contact Robin Hale robin.hale@unimelb.edu.au.


Understanding the effects of environmental change on natural ecosystems is a major challenge, particularly when multiple stressors interact to produce unexpected “ecological surprises” in the form of complex, nonadditive effects that can amplify or reduce their individual effects. Animals often respond behaviorally to environmental change, and multiple stressors can have both population‐level and community‐level effects. However, the individual, not combined, effects of stressors on animal behavior are commonly studied. There is a need to understand how animals respond to the more complex combinations of stressors that occur in nature, which requires a systematic and rigorous approach to quantify the various potential behavioral responses to the independent and interactive effects of stressors. We illustrate a robust, systematic approach for understanding behavioral responses to multiple stressors based on integrating schemes used to quantitatively classify interactions in multiple‐stressor research and to qualitatively view interactions between multiple stimuli in behavioral experiments. We introduce and unify the two frameworks, highlighting their conceptual and methodological similarities, and use four case studies to demonstrate how this unification could improve our interpretation of interactions in behavioral experiments and guide efforts to manage the effects of multiple stressors. Our unified approach: (1) provides behavioral ecologists with a more rigorous and systematic way to quantify how animals respond to interactions between multiple stimuli, an important theoretical advance, (2) helps us better understand how animals behave when they encounter multiple, potentially interacting stressors, and (3) contributes more generally to the understanding of “ecological surprises” in multiple stressors research.

Keywords: antagonism, cue, ecological surprise, effect size, interaction, multiple stressor, sensory pollution, synergism.