Climatic Change

, Volume 149, Issue 3–4, pp 457–471 | Cite as

In situ behavioral plasticity as compensation for weather variability: implications for future climate change

  • Michael J. NoonanEmail author
  • Chris Newman
  • Andrew Markham
  • Kirstin Bilham
  • Christina D. Buesching
  • David W. Macdonald


While climatic effects on species biogeographic distributions are well documented, less mobile species must compensate for climate change in situ via behavioral plasticity. Despite this being a critical mechanism, behavioral plasticity is rarely modeled explicitly. Here, we use novel accelerometer and active-RFID transponder technology to quantify weather-driven modification of activity, mechanical energy expenditure, and ranging behavior, using the European badger as a model species. We then examine how these behaviors could respond to future climate change. From multi-model inference, activity was promoted significantly by a quadratic relationship with temperature, but inhibited by a quadratic relationship with humidity, and the amount of solar radiation. Drier conditions also encouraged more movement. Modeled against IPCC SRES low and high emissions climate change scenarios, milder and drier conditions projected for the next century would likely produce a change to badgers’ current phenology, with elevated levels of activity being maintained into the winter. This increased activity could necessitate up to a 15% increase in energy expenditure. Furthermore, conditions projected under the high emissions scenario may also lead to substantially increased movement, with implications for road traffic mortality rates. We contend that behavioral adaptation must be better incorporated into conservation strategies, versus the assumption of non-adaptive failure.



We would like to thank The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species for supporting this core study, and Biotrack Ltd. for their expertise in manufacturing and assembling our custom tracking collars. The authors thank the Climatic Change editors and reviewers for suggestions that helped improved this manuscript.

Funding information

MJN was supported by the Rhodes Trust and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada postgraduate scholarship, and AM was supported by an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant: UndertrackerEP/I026959/1.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Smithsonian Conservation Biology InstituteNational Zoological ParkFront RoyalUSA
  2. 2.Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of ZoologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  3. 3.Department of Computer ScienceUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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