Background: The effect of anthropogenic noise on terrestrial wildlife is a relatively new area of study with broad ranging management implications. Noise has been identified as a disturbance that has the potential to induce behavioral responses in animals similar to those associated with predation risk. This study investigated potential impacts of a variety of human activities and their associated noise on the behavior of elk (Cervus elaphus) and pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) along a transportation corridor in Grand Teton National Park.
Methodology/Principal Findings: We conducted roadside scan surveys and focal observations of ungulate behavior while concurrently recording human activity and anthropogenic noise. Although we expected ungulates to be more responsive with greater human activity and noise, as predicted by the risk disturbance hypothesis, they were actually less responsive (less likely to perform vigilant, flight, traveling and defensive behaviors) with increasing levels of vehicle traffic, the human activity most closely associated with noise. Noise levels themselves had relatively little effect on ungulate behavior, although there was a weak negative relationship between noise and responsiveness in our scan samples. In contrast, ungulates did increase their responsiveness with other forms of anthropogenic disturbance; they reacted to the presence of pedestrians (in our scan samples) and to passing motorcycles (in our focal observations).
Conclusions: These findings suggest that ungulates did not consistently associate noise and human activity with an increase in predation risk or that they could not afford to maintain responsiveness to the most frequent human stimuli. Although reduced responsiveness to certain disturbances may allow for greater investment in fitness-enhancing activities, it may also decrease detections of predators and other environmental cues and increase conflict with humans.
Brown, Casey L.; Hardy, Amanda R.; Barber, Jesse R.; Fristrup, Kurt M.; Crooks, Kevin R.; and Angeloni, Lisa M.. (2012). "The Effect of Human Activities and Their Associated Noise on Ungulate Behavior". PLoS One, 7(7), 1-9. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0040505