Predicting the population consequences of human disturbance for Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula: a game theory approach

Authors

  • DURWYN LILEY,

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      *Corresponding author. Present address: Footprint Ecology, Court House, Binnegar Lane, East Stoke, Wareham, Dorset BH20 6AJ, UK. Email: durwyn.liley@footprint-ecology.co.uk
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  • WILLIAM J. SUTHERLAND

    1. School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, Norfolk NR4 7TJ, UK
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*Corresponding author. Present address: Footprint Ecology, Court House, Binnegar Lane, East Stoke, Wareham, Dorset BH20 6AJ, UK. Email: durwyn.liley@footprint-ecology.co.uk

Abstract

Human disturbance and its potential impacts upon bird populations are currently topical and contentious issues for conservationists. Although many studies have revealed a behavioural impact, or even direct effect on breeding success or survival, these cannot usually be extended to predict the impact on population size. Here we present a population model that allows predictions of the effect that changes in human numbers, visiting a 9-km-long section of the coastline, may have upon the size of a Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula population. Human disturbance affects Ringed Plovers in our study area through birds avoiding areas of high disturbance and, in addition, through the accidental trampling of a small number of nests by people walking on the beach. Using the level of human disturbance and habitat variables (which define territory quality) it is possible to predict which areas of beach are occupied and therefore the sites available to the population. Breeding success, for a given area of beach, can be predicted from habitat data. Incorporating known, density-independent, adult mortality allows the equilibrium population size to be predicted. This provides a model that predicts population size. This model is then used to predict the population that the site would support with different, hypothetical, levels of disturbance. If nest loss from human activity was prevented, for example by fencing nests, we predict the Plover population size would increase by 8%. A complete absence of human disturbance would cause a population increase of 85%. If the numbers of people were to double, we predict the population would decrease by 23%.

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