The Effect of Human Presence and Human Activity on Risk Assessment and Flight Initiation Distance in Skinks

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Abstract

Antipredator behavior and risk assessment of many species are affected by the presence of humans and their activities. Previous studies have largely been conducted on birds and mammals and relatively less is known about human impacts on reptiles. We used flight initiation distance (FID) as a measure of risk assessment in inland blue-tailed skinks (Emoia impar) and tested the direct and indirect effects of humans on risk assessment. We first examined the effects of varying levels and types of human disturbance and activity on skink FID. We found that skinks flushed at significantly longer distances in areas with the least human activity. We then tested the degree to which skinks are able to discriminate different numbers of humans by comparing FID across three different types of approaches. Skinks did not significantly differentiate between a single approacher and a single approacher coming from a group of two other people, but did flush at greater distances when approached by three people simultaneously. Although skinks are not directly harvested or harassed by humans, they have refined human discrimination abilities. Overall, skinks habituate to a variety of human activities and perceive a larger threat when the number of human approachers is greater.

Ancillary