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The week-end effect: How humans and wildlife coexist along a functional landscape

Some mammals alter activity patterns to avoid human weekend activity.

Along wild-to-urban gradients and especially within less developed areas, human recreation can affect wildlife behavior, especially during peaks in human recreational activity.

PHOTO CREDIT: Wasatch Wildlife Watch

Juvenile mule deer jumps through Parley’s Creek in Parley’s Canyon, Utah.

In a new study, published in the journal Animal Behaviour, large-scale citizen science camera trapping helped assess whether periodic increases in human recreational activity elicit behavioral responses across multiple mammal species in northern Utah.

“We assessed whether increases in human recreational activity during the weekend affected mammalian activity patterns at the community-wide and species-specific level,” said Austin Green, lead author of the paper. The team headed up by Green, a postdoctoral researcher in the Science Research Initiative (SRI) at the U’s College of Science, found little evidence supporting the presence of time-specific, or temporal effect, behavioral changes in response to increases in human recreational activity during the weekend, known as the “weekend effect.”

Only elk, Cervus canadensis, and rock squirrel, Otospermophilus variegatus, significantly altered temporal activity patterns during the weekend. “People significantly alter periodical activity during the weekend,” according to the study, “with more activity occurring in midday and less activity occurring in the early evening. This leads to consistent decreases in human-wildlife temporal overlap.”

An instructor of the Human Wildlife Coexistence stream in the SRI, Green is currently working with undergraduates in the field and in the lab located in the Crocker Science Center. Green’s research is focused on the Wasatch Front, a “functional landscape” that combines both human use and conservation. “One way in which mammals avoid the human ‘super-predator,’” says Green, “is by altering their behavior”: how they use both space and time, how they adjust their interaction with other species and how they vary where they feed, sleep and reproduce.

Green’s group uses large-scale fieldwork in both natural and urbanized landscapes, performs data analytics, identifies wildlife in photos using artificial intelligence and promotes citizen science education and engagement. In this study, said Green, “we were able to show that by altering the time of day that humans recreate, we can reduce the negative impacts of increased recreational activity on wildlife behavior.”