Lasting behavioural responses of brown bears to experimental encounters with humans
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- Some large carnivore populations are increasing in Europe and North America, and minimizing interactions between people and carnivores is a major management task. Analysing the effects of human disturbance on wildlife from a predator–prey perspective is also of conservation interest, because individual behavioural responses to the perceived risk of predation may ultimately influence population distribution and demography.
- The Scandinavian brown bear population provides a good model to study the interactions between an expanding large carnivore population, and people who use forests extensively for professional and recreational activities. We experimentally approached 52 GPS-collared brown bears (293 approaches on foot) from 2006 to 2011, to document the reaction of bears and quantify the effect of disturbance on bear movements.
- None of the bears reacted aggressively to the observers. Although the location of the animals was known, bears were usually in quite concealed spots and were physically detected in only 16% of the approaches (seen in 42 approaches; heard in 6). However, the bears altered their daily movement patterns after the approaches. Bears increased movement at night-time and moved less at daytime, which was most visible in days 1 and 2 after the approaches, altering their foraging and resting routines.
- Synthesis and applications. We provide experimental evidence on the effect of human disturbance on a large carnivore. The lack of aggressive reactions to approaching observers reinforces the idea that European brown bears generally avoid people, although bears can respond aggressively if they feel threatened (e.g. when wounded). However, the movement patterns of the bears changed after disturbance. Separating large carnivores and people temporally and spatially is an important goal for conservation and management. Conserving the shrub cover that provides concealment to the carnivores and keeping people away from the most densely vegetated spots in the forests is a way to avoid encounters between carnivores and people, therefore promoting human safety and carnivore conservation.