Habitat restoration: planning with an animal’s mind

By Robin Hale and Stephen E. Swearer

When good animals love bad restored habitats: how maladaptive habitat selection can constrain restoration

When good animals love bad restored habitats: how maladaptive habitat selection can constrain restoration

This article was published online in the Journal of Applied Ecology on 28th November 2016 and can be found here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.12829. For more information please contact Robin Hale robin.hale@unimelb.edu.au.


  1. Restoration is increasingly undertaken to ameliorate the risks of habitat loss and transformation to biodiversity. Despite significant expenditure of time and resources world-wide, restored habitats commonly fail to achieve these objectives.
  2. Restoration could fail because animals either avoid restored habitats (perceptual traps) or prefer restored habitats where their fitness is reduced (ecological traps). Consequently, restoration may have a neutral impact or more worryingly provide an additional risk to population persistence. Whether traps arise as an unintended consequence of restoration has largely been unexplored.
  3. Our aim is to highlight how traps can compromise restoration efforts and propose ways to reduce this possibility. We first highlight five criteria for successful habitat restoration to identify how and where ecological and perceptual traps could arise and use case studies to demonstrate some of the diverse ways restoration could cause traps. Managing traps that form via restoration depends on reinstating the links between habitat quality and preference. We suggest resource-based habitat approaches, which consider what represents functional habitats from the perspective of animals, are a potentially useful tool in this regard. Furthermore, cognitive theory may help to improve our understanding of how animals select habitats and to address problematic behaviours as they arise.
  4. Synthesis and applications. Restoration will fail if habitat quality and preference are not strongly linked, but this possibility has received limited attention. Our review will help ensure that restored habitats provide the resources required by animals, and that animals assess and respond to these habitats adaptively. We hope to stimulate further discussion between evolutionary, behavioural and restoration ecologists to improve the success of habitat restoration.