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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Human activity affects the perception of risk by mule deer

  • Author(s): Price, MV
  • Strombom, EH
  • Blumstein, DT
  • et al.

© 2014 Current Zoology. Human activity has been shown to influence how animals assess the risk of predation, but we know little about the spatial scale of such impacts. We quantified how vigilance and flight behavior in mule deer Odocoileus hemionus varied with distance from an area of concentrated human activity—a subalpine field station. An observer walked trails at various distances away from the station looking for deer. Upon encounter, the observer walked toward the focal animal and noted the distance at which it alerted and directed its attention to the approaching human (Alert Distance; AD), and the distance at which it fled (Flight Initiation Distance; FID). AD and FID both increased nonlinearly with distance from the center of the field station, reaching plateaus around 250 m and 750 m, respectively. Deer also tended to flee by stotting or running, rather than by walking, when far from the station but they walked away when near the station. These results indicate that deer perceive lower risk near a focused area of human activity, and that vigilance and flight behaviors respond on somewhat different spatial scales. The concept of a spatial “human footprint” on behavior may be useful for understanding how human activities affect wildlife.

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