Approaches to measuring the effects of human disturbance on birds

  • Gill J
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Abstract

Human recreational activities are often considered as potential threats to biodiversity, by restricting animals' access to resources that otherwise would be exploited. Because access to wildlife areas is one major means of increasing their public value, and hence the pressure to conserve them, it is clearly critical to be able to identify accurately when human presence is a threat to conservation and when it is not. A wide range of methods have been used to assess the impacts of human disturbance on wildlife and these methods are summarized here. The type of method used depends principally on whether the disturbance issue relates to a particular site, a particular group of individuals or whole populations. Within these categories, both comparative and experimental approaches have been used to assess behavioural, distributional, demographic and population responses to human presence. Examples of each approach are given here, together with an assessment of the information each method provides. Human disturbance of wildlife is frequently mentioned as one of the principal issues of concern in biodiversity conservation, yet the information required to assess the extent of this threat is rarely available. The issue presents a potential dilemma for conservationists because human access to wildlife areas is a critical element of generating public support for maintaining areas for biodiversity conservation. Providing access to wildlife areas is also a key element of educating and influencing the public and the next generation of conservationists. In this context, it is clearly extremely important for researchers to identify accurately cases where human presence is adversely impacting on wildlife, and to be able to quantify this effect in relation to the potential benefits of access. The principal way in which human presence can impact on wildlife is by altering the ability of animals to exploit important resources. This can operate either through directly restricting access to resources such as food supplies, nesting sites or roosting sites, or by altering the actual or perceived quality of these sites. Direct restriction of access to resources can occur through animals avoiding areas where humans are present. Changes in the quality of sites as a result of human presence could occur, for example, if predators were attracted to areas with humans, or if the presence of humans reduced the presence of prey species. The threat of human presence leading to restricted access to resources has led to a very large number of studies of a wide range of taxa. A variety of approaches have been taken by different researchers (Hill et al . 1997) and different methods are appropriate for different questions and circumstances (Table 1).

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Authors

  • Jeniifer Gill

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