Conservation implications of anthropogenic impacts on visual communication and camouflage

Kaspar Delhey, Anne Peters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Anthropogenic environmental impacts can disrupt the sensory environment of animals and affect important processes from mate choice to predator avoidance. Currently, these effects are best understood for auditory and chemosensory modalities, and recent reviews highlight their importance for conservation. We examined how anthropogenic changes to the visual environment (ambient light, transmission, and backgrounds) affect visual communication and camouflage and considered the implications of these effects for conservation. Human changes to the visual environment can increase predation risk by affecting camouflage effectiveness, lead to maladaptive patterns of mate choice, and disrupt mutualistic interactions between pollinators and plants. Implications for conservation are particularly evident for disrupted camouflage due to its tight links with survival. The conservation importance of impaired visual communication is less documented. The effects of anthropogenic changes on visual communication and camouflage may be severe when they affect critical processes such as pollination or species recognition. However, when impaired mate choice does not lead to hybridization, the conservation consequences are less clear. We suggest that the demographic effects of human impacts on visual communication and camouflage will be particularly strong when human-induced modifications to the visual environment are evolutionarily novel (i.e., very different from natural variation); affected species and populations have low levels of intraspecific (genotypic and phenotypic) variation and behavioral, sensory, or physiological plasticity; and the processes affected are directly related to survival (camouflage), species recognition, or number of offspring produced, rather than offspring quality or attractiveness. Our findings suggest that anthropogenic effects on the visual environment may be of similar importance relative to conservation as anthropogenic effects on other sensory modalities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-39
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • climate change
  • color
  • crypsis
  • habitat degradation
  • light
  • pollution
  • urbanization
  • water turbidity

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