Integrating Ecophysiological and Agent-Based Models to Simulate How Behavior Moderates Salamander Sensitivity to Climate
Developing rigorous ecological models is a fundamental goal of conservation biologists seeking to forecast biotic responses to climate change. A limitation of many models is they are amechanistic and lack integration of behavior, which is fundamental to animal biology. We integrated biophysical and agent-based models (ABM) to examine how behavior could affect the sensitivity of Plethodontid salamander activity time to climate. Specifically, our model used a temperature differential to stimulate plant climbing, a widely observed behavior among salamanders, which would allow salamanders to reduce body temperatures and associated dehydration rates. Consistent with expectations, predicted activity time was positively correlated with precipitation. The model showed that climbing plants increased activity time in drier conditions, particularly for smaller salamanders. The predicted importance of climbing behavior, a form of behavioral plasticity, was highly sensitive to assumptions about the threshold of water loss an individual was willing to tolerate. Because activity time is associated with fitness, increased activity time as a consequence of climbing behavior could moderate salamander sensitivity to shifts in weather patterns. Our results demonstrate the potential and importance of integrating behaviors into ecophysiological models when evaluating a species' potential sensitivity to climate.