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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Quantifying the effect of hiking disturbance on American pika (Ochotona princeps) foraging behaviour Stafl, Natalie L


An animal's need to balance energy intake with predator avoidance results in trade-offs predicted by optimum foraging theory. These trade-offs may include reducing foraging activity if 1) perception of predation risk is high or 2) abiotic conditions are suboptimal for foraging. Human disturbances such as hikers can influence an animal's perception of predation risk, yet little is known about how hiking affects the foraging behaviour of species in the alpine zone. American pikas (Ochotona princeps) are small, food-hoarding mammals whose foraging ability is restricted by heat. If pikas' ability to forage is further decreased by hiking disturbance it could negatively impact their survival due to reduced food storage. To quantify the effect of hikers on foraging time, I evaluated multiple hypotheses of risk avoidance by simulating disturbance events for 48 pikas in Glacier National Park, BC. I assessed pikas' response to hikers using four indicators of risk behaviour: alert distance (DA), flight initiation distance (DF), exit delay (TE) and delay in return to forage (TR). To test if temperature or distance to trail was more influential to pikas' foraging activity, I conducted behavioural observations on 17 pikas. All simulated disturbance events elicited anti-predator response behaviours in foraging pikas, reducing time available to forage and increasing time spent alert and vigilant. Distance to trail was an important predictor of TE and TR. Pikas near trails (<50 meters) exhibited increased tolerance to human disturbance losing an average of 4.1 (SE=0.6, n=19) minutes of foraging time per disturbance event compared to pikas with territories >100 m away from trails, which lost an average of 13.2 (SE=1.7, n=16) minutes of foraging time per disturbance event. Temperature, not distance to trail, was the strongest predictor of pikas' foraging activity over a 4-6 hour period. This suggests that human disturbance may be partially mitigated by pikas' behavioural adaptation at less frequented sites. Monitoring pika populations near and away from trails would be well-advised given projected trends in warming climate and potential increases in hiking traffic.

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