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Wildlife movement is strongly influenced by human behavior

In order for animals to thrive in the wild, they must have natural habitats known as wildlife corridors that connect neighboring populations. Otherwise, a group of animals may become isolated and unable to breed and survive. A new study describes the strong influence that humans have on wildlife movement.

Past studies on wildlife connectivity have focused on measuring various aspects of the landscape, and the potential impacts of human behavior have largely been overlooked. 

An international team of researchers led by the University of Göttingen and Humboldt University Berlin have introduced a new concept that they call “anthropogenic resistance.” The experts say that this aspect of wildlife movement must be considered to secure sustainable landscapes for both animals and people in the future.  

Human disturbances, including rapid urbanization and deforestation, are increasingly impacting natural landscapes. When these changes are assessed, the analyses are largely focused on properties of the land such as agriculture, urbanization, forestland, or elevation. 

Meanwhile, human impacts are usually lumped together in categories such as population density, or distance from settlements or roads. 

The researchers propose that it is not merely the presence, absence, or number of people that affects wildlife movement. Instead, it is what the people are actually doing that alters the behavior of nearby animals. 

According to the study authors, a range of psychological and socioeconomic factors can play a part in anthropogenic resistance, including hunting or supplementary feeding.

For their investigation, the researchers analyzed three case studies on wolves in Washington State, leopards in Iran, and large carnivores in central India. 

The same concept can be applied to other species as well. For example, roe deer use croplands for both shelter and food but reduce their presence during the hunting season. 

The experts report that differences in human behavior based on cultural and religious beliefs strongly influence wildlife movement. 

“Anthropogenic resistance is also relevant to the BearConnect project, which aims to understand the factors that determine connectivity in European populations of the brown bear. Bears are capable of moving across huge distances, as shown by bear JJ1, better known as ‘Bruno’, who traveled from the Italian Trento region all the way to Bavaria, where he was shot,” explained Professor Niko Balkenhol.

“It is important to note that, although Bruno was able to cross the physical landscape, he was stopped by the severe anthropogenic resistance provided by humans who could not tolerate his behavior.”

“Our paper shows that anthropogenic resistance is an important piece of the puzzle for connectivity-planning to ensure the functionality of corridors for wildlife and people,” said study senior author Dr. Trishna Dutta. “It reveals that there are advantages for social and natural scientists to collaborate in understanding the effects of anthropogenic resistance in future studies.”

The study is published in the journal One Earth.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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