Neglected mechanisms of adaptation to a changing world: Matching Habitat Choice
Individuals exert Matching Habitat Choice if they somehow evaluate their ecological performance in one or more local habitats, and based on this information choose to stay or not in a given habitat. If individuals have different phenotypes, then the preferred habitat may vary between individuals as well. For example, large-billed birds may prefer habitat with large seeds whereas small-billed birds prefer habitat with small seeds. Hence movement, dispersal and gene flow are driven by individual differences. This can lead to local adaptation and spatial genetic structuring. Even though this adaptive behavioural mechanism is highly plausible and seems very relevant for a number of key ecological and evolutionary topics, it is shamefully understudied, especially empirically. In a project funded by the Spanish Ministry for Science, we therefore studied to what extent cryptic ground-perching grasshoppers are employing Matching Habitat Choice as they are colonising new habitats. We did this in a unique setting of urban habitats with different colours (types of pavement) in a deserted housing development site, where some grasshoppers even live on asphalt roads. As a first, we have quantified the relative importance of different routes towards improved local performance (check out this paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution for a classification), and all data suggests that in our system biased dispersal is in fact the dominant driver. Check my publication page for the different papers that have and are coming out of this project.