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Keywords:

  • bivalves;
  • estuaries;
  • human presence;
  • prey selection;
  • waders

Summary

  • 1
    Human disturbance of wildlife is widely considered to be a serious conservation problem. However, despite many qualitative studies, little attempt has been made to assess whether human presence limits the number of animals that sites can support. This can be quantified by incorporating measures both of human presence and of resource distribution into analyses of population distribution. The effects of disturbance can then be measured from any reduction in resource use at disturbed sites, which in turn indicates any reduction in the number of animals supported.
  • 2
    Shorebirds are often considered highly susceptible to disturbance because of their very obvious flight responses to humans and because they use areas that are generally subject to high levels of human recreational use.
  • 3
    This study addressed the effect of human presence on the distribution of black-tailed godwits Limosa limosa islandica on coastal areas in eastern England. We identified the prey types selected by godwits and related their depletion to different levels and types of human disturbance at a range of spatial scales.
  • 4
    Three methods of analysis are described: simple regressions of the effect of human activity on the number of godwits supported; multiple regression analyses of the effect of human presence and prey density on godwit numbers; and analyses of the effect of human presence on prey density at the end of the season. The latter method assumes that godwits are responsible for the majority of resource depletion. None of the analyses showed any effect of human presence on the number of godwits supported by the food supply at any of the spatial scales examined.
  • 5
    Many species may appear to avoid human presence but this may not reduce the number of animals supported in an area. Assessing the influence of disturbance on the relationship between animal distribution and resource distribution provides a means of assessing whether numbers are constrained by disturbance.