1 Tahrcountry Musings: More on human disturbance to wildlife

Thursday, September 08, 2011

More on human disturbance to wildlife

Responses of red deer (Cervus elaphus) to regular disturbance by hill walkers

Volume 57, Number 4, 817-825, DOI: 10.1007/s10344-011-0493-2

Yesterday we were discussing the effects of human disturbance on the diet composition of free ranging animals. Here is another paper that deals with identical theme.

The researchers used Global Positioning System tracking collars to monitor the movements of red deer (Cervus elaphus) stags (n=8) in a herd whose feeding grounds lie close to a popular walking track in the Highlands of Scotland. This track is used by around 20,000 walkers per year. It is very busy in summer and at weekends.


In a 2-year study, the locations of collared deer were recorded at 2-h intervals on typically busy days (Sundays: mean number of walkers (=204) and quiet days (Wednesdays: mean number of walkers (=49) during May and June.


The deer were consistently further from the track on Sundays than Wednesdays (371 vs 286 m) and moved greater distances between fixes (365 vs 308 m).


The amount of time spent in the small area of grassland closest to the track was lower on Sundays than Wednesdays (6% vs 13%). Although 97% of walkers use the track during the day (between 0800 and 2000 h), there was no evidence of compensatory use of grassland at night.The results demonstrate that animals which appear to be habituated to regular disturbance within their home territory may nevertheless alter their behaviour and potentially diet composition, as a result of that disturbance.

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