Behavioral responses associated with a human-mediated predator shelter

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  • Graeme Shannon
    Colorado State University
  • Line S. Cordes
    Colorado State University
  • Lisa Angeloni
    Colorado State University
  • Amanda Hardy
    Colorado State University
  • Kevin Crooks
    Colorado State University
Human activities in protected areas can affect wildlife populations in a similar manner to predation risk, causing increases in movement and vigilance, shifts in habitat use and changes in group size. Nevertheless, recent evidence indicates that in certain situations ungulate species may actually utilize areas associated with higher levels of human presence as a potential refuge from disturbance-sensitive predators. We now use four-years of behavioral activity budget data collected from pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and elk (Cervus elephus) in Grand Teton National Park, USA to test whether predictable patterns of human presence can provide a shelter from predatory risk. Daily behavioral scans were conducted along two parallel sections of road that differed in traffic volume - with the main Teton Park Road experiencing vehicle use that was approximately thirty-fold greater than the River Road. At the busier Teton Park Road, both species of ungulate engaged in higher levels of feeding (27% increase in the proportion of pronghorn feeding and 21% increase for elk), lower levels of alert behavior (18% decrease for pronghorn and 9% decrease for elk) and formed smaller groups. These responses are commonly associated with reduced predatory threat. Pronghorn also exhibited a 30% increase in the proportion of individuals moving at the River Road as would be expected under greater exposure to predation risk. Our findings concur with the ‘predator shelter hypothesis’, suggesting that ungulates in GTNP use human presence as a potential refuge from predation risk, adjusting their behavior accordingly. Human activity has the potential to alter predator-prey interactions and drive trophic-mediated effects that could ultimately impact ecosystem function and biodiversity.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere94630
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume9
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes

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