© Marcel Burkhardt
Bötsch, Y., Z. Tablado & L. Jenni (2017)
Experimental evidence of human recreational disturbance effects on bird-territory establishment
Proc. R. Soc. 284: 20170846
forest birds, nesting guild, foraging guild, flight-initiation distance, nature-based activities, outdoor recreation
The worldwide increase in human outdoor activities raises concerns for wildlife. Human disturbances, even at low levels, are likely to impact species during sensitive periods of the annual cycle. However, experimental studies during the putative sensitive period of territory establishment of birds which not only investigate low disturbance levels, but which also exclude the effect of habitat modification (e.g. walking trails) are lacking. Here, we experimentally disturbed birds in forest plots by walking through twice a day during territory establishment. Later we compared the breeding bird community of experimentally disturbed plots with that of undisturbed control plots. We discovered that the number of territories (−15.0%) and species richness (−15.2%) in disturbed plots were substantially reduced compared with control plots. Species most affected included those sensitive to human presence (assessed by flight-initiation distances), open-cup nesters and above-ground foragers. Long-distance migrants, however, were unaffected due to their arrival after experimental disturbance took place. These findings highlight how territory establishment is a sensitive period for birds, when even low levels of human recreation may be perceived as threatening, and alter settlement decisions. This can have important implications for the conservation of species, which might go unnoticed when focusing only on already established birds.