Applied ecology of fear: a meta-analysis on the potential of facilitating human-wildlife coexistence through nonlethal tools.

Published online
10 Jun 2024
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Ecological Solutions and Evidence

Ramirez, J. I. & Kuijper, D. P. J. & Olofsson, J. & Smit, C. & Hofmeester, T. R. & Siewert, M. B. & Widemo, F. & Cromsigt, J. P. G. M.
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The term "applied ecology of fear" was recently introduced to describe the growing research field that applies the theory of the ecology of fear to manage wildlife behaviour. The management goal is to drive targeted species spatially and temporally away from areas of human interest by inducing cues from real or simulated predators to reduce human-wildlife conflict. We aimed to quantify, through a meta-analysis, if prey anti-predator response would vary among field trials versus pen-based studies, predator cue types, predator hunting style and prey feeding type, and be stronger in response to larger predators relative to the prey's size. We also explored what studies found in terms of wildlife habituation to cues. We used species belonging to the Cervidae family as a case study since deer are among the group of species with the highest degree of human-wildlife conflict. We retrieved 114 studies from online databases and collected information from 39 of those studies that fitted our research scope. We found that acoustic cues more frequently led to an anti-predator response in deer than olfactory or visual cues. Neither predator hunting strategy nor deer feeding strategy or type of study (free-ranging or pen-based animals) influenced the extent to which deer responded to cues. Deer more frequently responded to cues that belonged to a larger predator relative to their size. Habituation was reported in less than one-third of the studies, with a study period ranging from 1 to 90 days, and occurred as soon as 7 days after the start of the study on average. Our meta-analysis suggested that acoustic cues hold most potential as a tool to manage deer behaviour. These findings support the development of applied ecology of fear tools that introduce predator cues to reduce human-wildlife conflicts. Major knowledge gaps remain that limit the effective use of such tools in wildlife management and future research should focus on improving our understanding of habituation to cues, on comparing the effectiveness of different types of cues, on simultaneously using a combination of cue types, and on testing cues at spatial-temporal scales of actual land-uses.

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