Deterioration of nature's information webs in the Anthropocene

Jakub Szymkowiak, Kenneth A. Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Information use constitutes the key aspect of phenotype–environment interactions for any organism living in a heterogeneous environment, as information increases the chances of making the decisions that match the current perceived state of the world. Information use is ubiquitous in a variety of contexts and organisms throughout their lifetime are inter-woven into complex information webs, in which information is constantly produced, gained and transmitted among conspecifics and heterospecifics. Due to increasingly disruptive anthropogenic changes to the Earth's support system, this information dimension of individuals' lives is now being increasingly deteriorated by human-induced rapid environmental changes. Here, we argue that one of the more pressing challenges for the field of the Ecology of Information – the study of how organisms acquire and use information and the ecological significance of informed decision-making – is to expand the current framework and strengthen its bridge to conservation biology. Building on recent theoretical and empirical advances in the field of Ecology of Information, we first emphasize the far-reaching ecological ramifications of information use and provide an overview of how individuals' informed decision-making scales up to affect population and community dynamics. Next, we highlight how recent human-induced rapid environmental changes deteriorate information acquisition, use and transmission in natural systems, thereby disrupting nature's information webs. The omission of information from conservation actions can have largely detrimental effects. Thus, there is an urgent need for ecologists and conservation biologists to explicitly trace and quantify the flows of information in ecological systems, and the diversity of information sources used by living organisms for decision-making and to establish collective efforts to preserve nature's information webs.

Original languageEnglish
JournalOikos
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Keywords

  • animal behavior
  • anthropogenic changes
  • information
  • species interactions

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