The experience of animals in their natal or larval habitats has long been considered a potential source of variation in the habitat choices made later during dispersal. This idea has been of particular interest to evolutionary biologists because of the role such variation plays in the formation of host races and species. However, experiments that have tested for the effect of natal experience on habitat choice have produced widely variable results, leading to disagreement about the ecological importance of these effects. Here, I review the results of experiments within a broad range of animal taxa to assess the potential sources of variation in observed effects of natal experience on habitat choice. I provide a comprehensive summary of previous studies and demonstrate that when natal experience influences habitat choice, it nearly always increases the acceptance of the natal habitat type. Furthermore, I discuss mechanisms that allow natal experience to affect later habitat choice and describe how these mechanisms are influenced by various experimental design elements, such as the life stage at which early experience is provided to subjects. I conclude by reviewing the adaptive hypotheses for why animals might or might not respond to natal experience, and also how these hypotheses might explain interspecific differences in the importance of natal experience during habitat selection decisions. By understanding in what species, and in which contexts, experience influences habitat selection, we will be able to predict the ecological and evolutionary consequences of these effects more accurately.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jeremy-davis/13/