JAN 15, 2019 7:29 PM PST

Can Wildlife Habituate to Increased Drone Activity?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Animal conservationists use a variety of different techniques to survey vast landscapes and gather animal population data. Many conservationists conduct their surveys on foot, but given some of the world’s more challenging terrains, surveying by foot isn’t always possible.

Can animals become accustomed to drones buzzing around their habitats?

Image Credit: Pixabay

As you might come to expect, animals of interest tend to inhabit these so-called challenging terrains. While the human body might not be adept enough to navigate through these terrains efficiently, other animals are better suited. Birds, for example, can effortlessly glide around, while smaller animals can easily slide through dense forests and other obstacles.

Related: Drones are helping conservationists combat animal poaching

Given just how problematic it can be to survey specific landscapes, conservationists regularly harness the power of technology to help with the job. Drones, for example, can provide a birds’ eye view of the ground below; however, many criticize this technique, claiming that drones are noisy and a disturbance to surrounding wildlife.

But does the latter argument hold any water? And if so, are the trade-offs worth it if we can obtain precise animal population data in challenging terrains?

To help answer this longstanding question, a team of curious researchers implanted heart monitors in five captive black bears and gauged their heart rates as they were exposed to drone-related activities. Their findings, published just this week in the journal Conservation Physiology, suggest that some animals may habituate to repeated drone exposure over time.

In an attempt to take the bears by surprise, the researchers spaced out their drone exposure experiments as arbitrarily as they could. Some exposure sessions were virtually back-to-back, while others were spaced out by as long as 118 days; this sporadic methodology removed the element of expectation from the experiment.

Initially, the researchers observed higher heart rates in the bears during drone exposure, an indication of stress response to strange circumstances; however, they displayed increased tolerances over time, both in the short-term and in the long-term. Also, the bears allegedly maintained this tolerance even after the 118-day break from drone exposure.

"It's important to note that the individual bears in this study did show a stress response to the initial drone flights," explained Mark Ditmer, the study’s lead author. "Close-proximity drone flights near wildlife should be avoided without a valid purpose. However, our findings do show that drone use in conservation, for things such as anti-poaching patrols, can provide benefits without long-term high- stress consequences."

Related: China kept this massive solar-powered drone a secret, until now

The findings suggest that while some animals might seem wary of drone-related activities at first, they’ll grow accustomed to it over time. On the other hand, the testing pool was limited only to black bears, which are already somewhat social animals to begin with.

Regardless, it’s a step in the right direction, and future studies should follow the same footsteps if they are to test similar responses in other animals. Perhaps after a few more experiments involving unrelated animals, we will finally begin to understand the impact drones have on the fragile ecosystem we observe with them.

Source: Science Daily, Conservation Physiology

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JUL 20, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Ectotherm thermal physiology puts amphibians at even greater climate risk than previously recognized
JUL 20, 2020
Ectotherm thermal physiology puts amphibians at even greater climate risk than previously recognized
Things aren’t looking good for amphibians. According to new research published in Global Change Biology from Simon ...
AUG 20, 2020
Plants & Animals
Flamboyant Cuttlefish Are Usually Understated
AUG 20, 2020
Flamboyant Cuttlefish Are Usually Understated
Cuttlefish are well known for their incredible camouflaging abilities; they can rapidly change the color and texture of ...
AUG 24, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Vets Warn Against Using CBD for Pets
AUG 24, 2020
Vets Warn Against Using CBD for Pets
As cannabis products have grown in popularity, the stigma around them is falling, while knowledge is increasing. CBD, th ...
SEP 24, 2020
Plants & Animals
High Arctic Polar Bears are Temporarily Benefitting from Climate Change
SEP 24, 2020
High Arctic Polar Bears are Temporarily Benefitting from Climate Change
For the past few decades, polar bears have been harbingers of climate change. However, not every polar bear subpopu ...
NOV 05, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Researchers describe a new rule for why fish swim in schools
NOV 05, 2020
Researchers describe a new rule for why fish swim in schools
A study published in Nature Communications highlights a new explanation of how fish swim in schools, a technique they us ...
NOV 24, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Cracking the Code of a Locust Swarm
NOV 24, 2020
Cracking the Code of a Locust Swarm
With a reputation for destruction that goes back to ancient Egypt, locust swarms are once again a major problem for some ...
Loading Comments...