Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 65, Issue 7, pp 1329–1351 | Cite as

Making habitat selection more “familiar”: a review

  • Walter H. PiperEmail author


Behavioral ecologists generally agree that animals derive benefits from familiarity with spaces that they inhabit or visit, yet site familiarity is rudimentary or lacking in most models of habitat selection. In this review, I examine evidence for the occurrence of site familiarity and its fitness benefits, describe the difficulty of measuring site familiarity, note its omission from the influential ideal free and ideal despotic models, and use a literature search to test an assumption of the ideal models that has become widespread in habitat selection theory: that animals behave without regard for site familiarity. I find little support for such “familiarity blindness” in vertebrates. Next I discuss how the study of public information has drawn attention away from site familiarity and point out that both kinds of information are likely to be important in habitat selection. I proceed to examine current models of initial settlement (exploration and settlement of prebreeders on first territories) and optional resettlement (site fidelity or dispersal by established breeders following a period of prospecting) and find that the latter include only basic forms of site familiarity. Hence, I develop the concept that an inhabited space holds a unique “private value” to an animal based on its familiarity with the space and offer a simple model for optional resettlement based on private value that generates several novel predictions, including site fidelity based on cumulative breeding site familiarity and high site fidelity among species with complex territories.


Habitat selection Site familiarity Site fidelity Territory Initial settlement Optional resettlement Public information Private information Private value Breeding dispersal Ideal free distribution Familiarity blindness 



P. Switzer, H. Wiley, P. Dunn, C. Brown, J. Walters, and two anonymous reviewers provided insightful comments and discussion. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation (IBN-0316442 and DEB-0717055).


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© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Earth and Environmental SciencesChapman UniversityOrangeUSA

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