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Volume 26
Number 1
Spring 2009
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Information Crossfile
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
The importance of research archives in national parks
Can marine reserves enhance fishery yield?
How far should a marine protected area extend to provide refuge for fish near coral reefs?
Effects of increased nitrogen deposition in wilderness areas
  Ecological traps: Implications for the conservation of animal populations
Alternative approaches to reserve design
The role of genetics in understanding landscape-level ecological processes
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Ecological traps: Implications for the conservation of animal populations

Editor's Note: Following is a journal article summary of Canon Scholar James Battin's research by his Canon Scholar colleagues Elizabeth Brusati and Patricia Illoldi-Rangel.

By Elizabeth Brusati and Patricia Illoldi-Rangel
Elizabeth Brusati was a 2001 Canon Scholar from the University of California, Davis. She is a project manager with the California Invasive Plant Council.

Patricia Illoldi-Rangel was a 2002 Canon Scholar from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She is a professor in the Faculty of Sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a postdoctoral fellow with the Biodiversity and Biocultural Conservation Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin.

ACCORDING TO THE ECOLOGICAL THEORY of source-sink dynamics, animals first fill up “sources”—habitat that allows good survival and reproduction—then move into “sinks,” less productive habitat. Movement from sources to sinks results in stable populations over time. However, an “ecological trap” can attract animals to lower-quality habitat first, causing the population to decline, even to the point of extinction. Habitats modified by human activities are the most likely to contain ecological traps, but pristine areas may also house them. Many case studies, mostly on birds, have proposed that traps include linear habitat corridors, artificial wetlands, and the entire prairie pothole region of the U.S. Midwest. A specific example is Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii) selecting Tucson, Arizona, as a nesting site even though the hawks contract the fatal disease trichomoniasis from eating pigeons there. The inability of organisms to adapt, either behaviorally or evolutionarily, seems to be the most important characteristic leading to their vulnerability to ecological traps. Because of this, ecological traps present a substantial management challenge. Managers are unlikely to be certain of the location, size, and implications of a suspected trap.

If traps do exist, then several questions confront managers: Where are the traps? Which species are most vulnerable? What measures can be used to identify a trap? How can managers incorporate this information into conservation planning? Often traps are found where rapid human-caused changes have occurred. More subtle changes include the expansion of invasive plants that provide poor habitat. Vulnerable species include those that must make quick assessments of habitat quality such as birds arriving on nesting grounds. Species that show little variation in habitat preferences are also at risk. Additionally, gene flow among some populations prevents local adaptation.

Because human-caused landscape changes are now commonplace, managers must take into account the possibility of ecological traps when managing animal population or planning conservation strategies. Any attempt to conserve animal populations, particularly in changing landscapes, may be severely complicated by the presence of ecological traps. Managers might consider solutions that improve habitat quality or discourage animals from settling in poor patches.


Battin, J. 2004. When good animals love bad habitats: Ecological traps and the conservation of animal populations. Conservation Biology 18:1482–1491.

James Battin was a 2000 Canon Scholar from Northern Arizona University. He works for the National Marine Fisheries Service in a postdoctoral research position at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Washington.

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From the Guest Editor(s)
In This Issue
  Information Crossfile
Book Reviews
Masthead Information
The Canon National Parks Science Scholars Program: A legacy of science for national parks
Science for parks / parks for science: Conservation-based research in national parks
The rock and ice problem in national parks: An opportunity for monitoring climate change impacts
1,000 feet above a coral reef: A seascape approach to designing marine protected areas
Management strategies for keystone bird species: The Magellanic woodpecker in Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina
Climate change and water supply in western national parks
Mercury in snow at Acadia National Park reveals watershed dynamics
Organic pollutant distribution in Canadian mountain parks
Building an NPS training program in interpretation through distance learning
Musical instruments in the pre-Hispanic Southwest
Societal dynamics in grizzly bear conservation: Vulnerabilities of the ecosystem-based management approach
Linking wildlife populations with ecosystem change: State-of-the-art satellite ecology for national-park science
Whale sound recording technology as a tool for assessing the effects of boat noise in a Brazilian marine park
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