Individual environmental niches in mobile organisms

Ben S. Carlson*, Shay Rotics, Ran Nathan, Martin Wikelski, Walter Jetz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations

Abstract

Individual variation is increasingly recognized as a central component of ecological processes, but its role in structuring environmental niche associations remains largely unknown. Species’ responses to environmental conditions are ultimately determined by the niches of single individuals, yet environmental associations are typically captured only at the level of species. Here, we develop scenarios for how individual variation may combine to define the compound environmental niche of populations, use extensive movement data to document individual environmental niche variation, test associated hypotheses of niche configuration, and examine the consistency of individual niches over time. For 45 individual white storks (Ciconia ciconia; 116 individual-year combinations), we uncover high variability in individual environmental associations, consistency of individual niches over time, and moderate to strong niche specialization. Within populations, environmental niches follow a nested pattern, with individuals arranged along a specialist-to-generalist gradient. These results reject common assumptions of individual niche equivalency among conspecifics, as well as the separation of individual niches into disparate parts of environmental space. These findings underscore the need for a more thorough consideration of individualistic environmental responses in global change research.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number4572
JournalNature Communications
Volume12
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 27 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

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