Low levels of outdoor recreation alter wildlife behaviour.

Published online
04 Jan 2023
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

Sytsma, M. L. T. & Lewis, T. & Gardner, B. & Prugh, L. R.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
Alaska & USA


Public interest in nature-based recreation is growing, including visitation to protected areas. However, the level of recreation in these areas that causes detectable changes in wildlife behaviour remains unknown, and many studies that investigate wildlife responses to humans do so in high-visitation areas. We used camera traps to investigate the spatial and temporal responses of brown bears (Ursus arctos), black bears (Ursus americanus), moose (Alces alces) and wolves (Canis lupis) to experimentally manipulated levels of human activity in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska during summers 2017 and 2018. Human activity was restricted at some sites and concentrated at others, and these human impact treatments were swapped mid-season. The park has very low on-land visitation (~40,000 on-land tourists per year), making it a unique study system to investigate wildlife responses to low levels of human activity. Detections did not exceed five per week for any species unless human activity was absent (zero photos of humans were taken). However, spatial and temporal patterns of wildlife activity in relation to human activity were nuanced and species specific. Moose shifted their activity patterns to better align with when people were most active. Black bears were more likely to be detected in areas of high human activity but used high-use areas less intensely than low-use areas. Wolves used areas of high human impact more intensely, but shifted their activity to be more strongly nocturnal. Our results highlight the importance of considering both spatial and temporal responses of wildlife to human activity. Additionally, and arguably most importantly, we detected changes in wildlife behaviour in response to humans in a national park with relatively low tourism. Although natural processes may dominate in protected areas, our results indicate that even low levels of human activity can alter wildlife behaviour. Synthesis and applications. We demonstrated that nearly any level of human activity in a protected area may alter wildlife behaviour. However, it is unreasonable to expect protected areas to be completely devoid of human activity. Thus, management of these areas will need to balance the desires of humans to view wildlife with the likely impacts.

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