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Ecol Appl. 2010 Dec;20(8):2148-56.

Habitat selection and the perceptual trap.

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Oklahoma Biological Survey and Department of Zoology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma 73019, USA.


The concept of "ecological traps" was introduced over three decades ago. An ecological trap occurs when, by various mechanisms, low-quality (yielding low fitness) habitat is more attractive than good habitat, thus coaxing individuals to settle there despite a resultant loss of fitness. Empirical work on such traps has increased dramatically in the past decade, but the converse-avoidance of high-quality habitat because it is less attractive, what we term a "perceptual trap" has remained largely unexplored. Even so, depending on conditions (growth rate, strength of habitat preference, and mortality rate), such perceptual traps can be more limiting than ecological traps to population persistence. An example from field experiments with the Lesser Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) lends empirical support to the concept, and several other potential examples suggest that these traps are perhaps more prevalent than has been appreciated. Because demographic Allee effects are expected to prevent a population from growing sufficiently in a habitat that is avoided, a perceptual trap may persist even though fitness is high. Unlike an ecological trap, which may be negated by increasing habitat quality, biologists will be hard pressed to negate a perceptual trap, which will require determining which cues an animal uses to select high-quality habitat and then devising a means of enhancing those cues so that an animal is lured into the habitat.

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