Sunday, 7 February 2016

How humans threaten pumas just by being nearby

February 5, 2016 by Justine Smith, University Of California, Santa Cruz, The Conversation

You are wandering in the forest where you live, thinking about what you are going to have for dinner. Among the familiar calls of chickadees, you hear a foreign sound. You crouch in hiding, frightened for yourself and your family. Not until nightfall does the noise abate, allowing you to move again under the cloak of darkness. Soon you learn that the sounds come from unfamiliar beings taking over your homeland. You learn to live in hiding, believing that as soon as you let your guard down you may pay the ultimate price.

This is not the premise of a zombie apocalypse movie. It is the story of human expansion into wild places, where the wildlife that coexists with us often lives in chronic fear of humans.
Disturbance by humans changes the behavior of animals near towns, along roads and in areas that we use for mining, energy development and recreation. Although conservationists are starting to consider how the presence of humans affects the behavior of some species, they rarely analyze how these changes in animals' behavior affects entire ecosystems. In my research examining pumas, or mountain lions, in California, I've found that our presence alters how they hunt for deer, which can have a significant effect on the ecosystem overall.

Fear factor
Fear is a powerful force in ecosystems. For decades, ecologists have acknowledged that fear can dictate when, where, and what animals eat, what habitats they use and how they communicate with one another. These behavioral changes in animals are ecologically important because they can change interactions among species. Although many animals are known to respond fearfully to their predators, we are only beginning to understand how humans elicit the same responses in wildlife.

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