The availability and quality of forage on the landscape constitute the foodscape within which animals make behavioral decisions to acquire food. Novel changes to the foodscape, such as human disturbance, can alter behavioral decisions that favor avoidance of perceived risk over food acquisition. Although behavioral changes and population declines often coincide with the introduction of human disturbance, the link(s) between behavior and population trajectory are difficult to elucidate. To identify a pathway by which human disturbance may affect ungulate populations, we tested the Behaviorally Mediated Forage‐Loss Hypothesis, wherein behavioral avoidance is predicted to reduce use of available forage adjacent to disturbance. We used GPS collar data collected from migratory mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) to evaluate habitat selection, movement patterns, and time‐budgeting behavior in response to varying levels of forage availability and human disturbance in three different populations exposed to a gradient of energy development. Subsequently, we linked animal behavior with measured use of forage relative to human disturbance, forage availability, and quality. Mule deer avoided human disturbance at both home range and winter range scales, but showed negligible differences in vigilance rates at the site level. Use of the primary winter forage, sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), increased as production of new annual growth increased but use decreased with proximity to disturbance. Consequently, avoidance of human disturbance prompted loss of otherwise available forage, resulting in indirect habitat loss that was 4.6‐times greater than direct habitat loss from roads, well pads, and other infrastructure. The multiplicative effects of indirect habitat loss, as mediated by behavior, impaired use of the foodscape by reducing the amount of available forage for mule deer, a consequence of which may be winter ranges that support fewer animals than they did before development.
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Dwinnell, Samantha P.H.; Sawyer, Hall; Randall, Jill E.; Beck, Jeffery L.; Forbey, Jennifer S.; Fralick, Gary L.; and Monteith, Kevin L.. (2019). "Where to Forage When Afraid: Does Perceived Risk Impair Use of the Foodscape?". Ecological Applications, 29(7), e01972-1 - e01972-16. https://dx.doi.org/10.1002/eap.1972
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