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The cost of disturbance: a waste of time and energy?


A. I. Houston, School of Biological Sciences, Univ. of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1UG, UK. E-mail:


Quantifying the effect of disturbance is a central issue in conservation. Using time and energy budgets, we obtain a range of ways to assess the importance of disturbance. One measure is the time that must be spent foraging in order to balance the energy budget. From this we derive critical levels of wastage (rate of disturbance multiplied by duration of disturbance) at which the animal runs out of time or reaches a limit on energy expenditure. In the case of the time constraint, the critical wastage is the net rate of energetic gain while foraging divided by the rate of energetic expenditure during a disturbance. The associated critical rate of disturbance is the net rate of energetic gain while foraging divided by the energy spent during a disturbance. The model is illustrated using data from the African wild dog, which suffers disturbance from lions and kleptoparasitism from hyenas. Findings suggest that disturbance imposes significant costs on wild dog time and energy budgets. We show how alternative environments can be evaluated in terms of their effective rate of gain, which is the net rate of gain from foraging minus the rate of energy expenditure as a result of disturbance.