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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Long-term Consequences of Short-term Responses to Disturbance Experiences from Whalewatching Impact Assessment


Studies often use behavioral responses to detect the impact of given disturbances on animals. However, the observation of these short-term responses can often lead to contradicting results. Here we describe studies focusing on the impacts of whale watching to show how the biological relevance of short-term responses can be inferred from contextual information. They showed that short-term behavioral responses could have long-term consequences for individuals and their populations using information about variation in response magnitude with exposure levels, long term population biology data, and multiple response variables. They showed that the added energetic constraints of the responses can impair life functions and lead to influences on vital rates with the potential to affect population viability. Individuals will manage disturbances as another ecological variable and will assess its costs in relation to other energetic trade-offs associated with the occupancy of the habitat in which the disturbance takes place. This can lead to rapid shift in tactics to cope with the disturbance, such as shift from short-term avoidance tactics to long-term habitat abandonment. When individuals cannot elude proximity to the disturbance, their fitness is reduced as observed through reduced reproductive success. These studies provide mechanisms to inform the US National Research Councils’ Population Consequences of Acoustic Disturbance framework in which the influence of noise impact of on marine mammal conservation can be studied.

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