Year of Award

2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Wildlife Biology

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Co-chair

Joel Berger, Mike Mitchell

Commitee Members

Charlie Janson, Hugh Robinson

Keywords

Trade-offs, fear, human-mediated predation refugia, predator-prey, migration, cost-benefit

Publisher

University of Montana

Subject Categories

Environmental Health and Protection | Natural Resources and Conservation | Natural Resources Management and Policy

Abstract

A key goal of protected areas is the conservation of biodiversity, an aim that garners increasing public support through positive experiences. Increasing visitation, however, can come at the cost of reduced ecological integrity. A fundamental conundrum is that if parks are to serve as our most pristine places, then we must understand how our presence alters species interactions. Species redistributing closer to people is of growing management concern both in and out of national parks because of 1) human safety, 2) animal health, and 3) ecological consequences. Across parks drivers of distributional change are often dissimilar, and include movement to people enhance predator avoidance – the human shields hypothesis. We examine these issues with comparative, observational, and experimental approaches contrasting ecological responses of an iconic species in a USA national park where annual visitation exceeds two million people/year. Specifically, we focus on the relative role of predator-avoidance and resource enhancement to test whether a cold-adapted alpine obligate, mountain goats, (Oreamnos americanus), mediate their distribution across time by increasing reliance on human presence in a North American national park – Glacier. Individuals that enhanced mineral acquisition through access to human urine concomitantly reduced behavioral responses to predator experiments relative to non-habituated back-country conspecifics. Habituated goats reduced group size, vigilance, and use of cliffs. Such patterns were quickly reversible when human presence was excluded. Our findings hold conservation relevance at three levels. First, human visitation to protected areas is altering species interactions and causing – in this case – the loss of seasonal goat migrations for minerals. Second, habituated animals, including goats, have killed and injured visitors. Third, while protected areas offer baselines for both scientists and visitors, redistribution of species and associated ecological changes means precaution will be needed in what we perceive as pristine and what is anthropogenically altered.

 

© Copyright 2016 Wesley Sarmento