Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Observer effects occur when estimating alert but not flight-initiation distances

P.-J. Guay A B , E. M. McLeod A , R. Cross A , A. J. Formby C , S. P. Maldonado A , R. E. Stafford-Bell A , Z. N. St-James-Turner A , R. W. Robinson A , R. A. Mulder C and M. A. Weston D E

A Applied Ecology Research Group and Institute for Sustainability and Innovation, College of Engineering and Science, Victoria University – St Albans Campus, PO Box 14428, Melbourne MC, Vic. 8001, Australia.

B College of Health and Biomedicine, Victoria University – St Albans Campus, PO Box 14428, Melbourne MC, Vic. 8001, Australia.

C Department of Zoology, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic. 3010, Australia.

D Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Vic. 3125, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: mweston@deakin.edu.au

Wildlife Research 40(4) 289-293 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR13013
Submitted: 22 January 2013  Accepted: 20 May 2013   Published: 19 June 2013

Abstract

Context: The estimation of alert (vigilance) and flight-initiation (escape) distances (AD and FID, respectively) has underpinned theoretical and applied studies of the escape behaviour and management of disturbance to wildlife. Many studies use multiple observers, and some conduct meta-analyses; these efforts assume no observer effects in the estimation of these distances.

Aims and methods: We compared the estimates of FID and AD under ideal conditions (i.e. of black swans, Cygnus atratus, a large species with obvious behaviour, and at a location where swans allowed close approaches in open habitats), by one experienced and four inexperienced observers.

Key results: FID did not differ among observers but AD differed between the experienced and all inexperienced observers, and among inexperienced observers. Thus, FID estimates appear more repeatable than those of AD. Experience apparently results in more conservative estimates of AD.

Conclusions: FID represents a repeatable measure that is consistent across observers. This study supports its broad application in the study of wildlife escape behaviour.

Implications: We recommend the use of FID rather than AD for comparative analyses that involve multiple observers, because FID is more reliably measured.

Additional keywords: disturbance, FID, flush, pedestrian, vigilance, walker, waterfowl, wetland.


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