The emergent properties of conspecific attraction can limit a species’ ability to track environmental change

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Multiple biotic, abiotic, and evolutionary constraints interact to determine a species’ range. However, most species are not present in all suitable and accessible locations. Dispersal ability may explain why many species do not occupy all suitable habitat, but highly mobile species also exhibit a mismatch. Habitat selection behavior where individuals are site faithful and settle near conspecifics could create a social pressure that make a species’ geographic range resistant to change. We investigated this possibility by using an individual-based model of habitat selection where habitat quality moved each year. Our model demonstrated the benefits of conspecific attraction in relatively stable environments and its detrimental influence when habitat quality shifted rapidly. These results were most apparent when adult survival was high, because site fidelity led to more individuals occupying poor-quality habitat areas as habitat quality changed. These individuals attracted other dispersing individuals, thereby decreasing the ability to track shifts in habitat quality, which we refer to as “social inertia.” Consequently, social inertia may arise for species that exhibit site fidelity and conspecific attraction, which may have conservation implications in light of climate change and widespread alteration of natural habitats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)726-733
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Climate change
  • Conspecific attraction
  • Habitat selection
  • Range expansion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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