Spatiotemporal Variability of Habitat Suitability and Quality Leads to Habitat Selection

In heterogeneous environments, natural selection will favor individuals capable of occupying the most favorable areas for activities linked to fitness, that is, survival and reproduction. Spatial and temporal environmental heterogeneity (Figure 2) thus leads to selective pressures favoring behaviors that allow individuals to select high-quality habitats or patches, that is, the evolution of individual strategies of habitat choice, for any activity considered (e.g., foraging for food, searching for a sexual partner, finding shelter from predators, breeding).

Spatial heterogeneity and temporal predictability of habitat or patch quality are required conditions for habitat choice or preference to evolve (Figure 2). In a homogeneous and equally exploited environment, there is no need for individuals to choose because the expected fitness will be equal in all habitats or patches. Moreover, if the environment is not predictable at the relevant timescale for the activity considered, a location cannot be chosen based on given characteristics since they could randomly change in the time between gathering information on those characteristics and individual decision, thus preventing individuals to achieve the expected fitness.

Habitat choice can have a major impact on fitness. Wrong decisions can lead to highly reduced survival, or complete breeding failure. Habitat or patch choice will be all the more critical as the temporal scale involved is long and individuals' movements are spatially constrained, for example, breeding compared to foraging habitat selection. The habitat used for breeding also determines the conditions to which breeders will be exposed during this period of life, sometimes representing most of an individual's lifetime. Selective pressures on habitat choice are thus strong.

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