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Report, 2021

Ecological traps in bees and butterflies

Horstmann, Svenja


Among many other decisions in life, the selection of a suitable habitat is shaped by a set of cues. However, human induced rapid environmental changes can alter the relationship between cues and the environmental conditions they have been coupled to over the past. For example, cues that usually indicate habitat attractiveness can become decoupled from actual habitat suitability. As a result, there is a risk that an individual experiences an ecological trap if it inaccurately assesses the fitness value of a habitat, and responds with maladaptive behaviour by choosing a habitat that will negatively affect its fitness.

In this essay, I searched the literature for publications on ecological traps in bees and butterflies. The research output on this subject area is scarce, and most studies were unable to provide enough evidence to determine the existence of an ecological trap. Three criteria determine an ecological trap: (i) An individual (equally) prefers a poorer over a better habitat, (ii) the individual’s fitness differs between both kinds of habitats, and (iii) the individuals’ fitness outcome is lower in the preferred habitat. Literature indicates that the scarce research may not be the result from ecological traps being rare, but from being difficult to prove. This is reason for concern, as severe ecological traps may not only lead to population decline and local extinction, but possibly also have negative effects on metapopulations. Therefore it is necessary to promote research on this topic and to include ecological trap theory into conservation and management schemes.


ecological trap; habitat preference; fitness; maladaptive behavior; HIREC

Published in

Introductory research essay (Department of Ecology, SLU)
Publisher: Department of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology

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