CZAAWE Resource Article

Plastic animals in cages: behavioural flexibility and responses to captivity
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Animal Behaviour
Billions of wild and semiwild animals live in captive conditions very different from their ancestral environments. Some of the potential challenges they face here, such as greater human proximity, constrained natural behaviours and altered climates, resemble those occurring during urbanization, translocation and other forms of human-induced rapid environmental change (HIREC) in the wild. These parallels between HIREC and captivity suggest that certain species could be in double jeopardy: struggling in both wild and captive environments. This raises new hypotheses for future research, including one tested in this paper: that a species' presence in captivity predicts its chances of establishment when translocated to novel natural habitats. Furthermore, understanding the mechanisms that predispose captive populations to thrive or fail can yield new insights into how animals respond to HIREC. For example, populations adjusting to captivity demonstrate rapid developmental effects. Within one generation, captive-reared animals may show beneficial phenotypic changes (e.g. smaller stress responses than F0s wild caught as adults), illustrating how adaptive developmental plasticity can help populations succeed. However, captive-reared animals also illustrate the risks of developing in evolutionarily new environments (being prone to reduced behavioural flexibility, and sometimes impaired reproduction), suggesting that disrupted ontogeny is one reason why HIREC can be harmful. Overall, analogies between captivity and HIREC are thus interesting and useful. However, captivity and HIREC do differ in some regards, captivity tending to be safer yet more monotonous; we therefore end by discussing how species-typical risk/protective factors, and the phenotypic changes induced in affected animals, may vary between the two.