Disturbance of wildlife by outdoor winter recreation: allostatic stress response and altered activity–energy budgets

Arlettaz, Raphaël; Nusslé, Sébastien; Patthey, Patrick; Genoud, Michel; Baltic, Marjana; Vogel, Peter; Palme, Rupert; Jenni-Eiermann, Susanne (2015). Disturbance of wildlife by outdoor winter recreation: allostatic stress response and altered activity–energy budgets. Ecological Applications, 25(5), pp. 1197-1212. Ecological Society of America 10.1890/14-1141.1

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Anthropogenic disturbance of wildlife is of growing conservation concern, but we lack comprehensive approaches of its multiple negative effects. We investigated several effects of disturbance by winter outdoor sports on free-ranging alpine Black Grouse by simultaneously measuring their physiological and behavioral responses. We experimentally flushed radio-tagged Black Grouse from their snow burrows, once a day, during several successive days, and quantified their stress hormone levels (corticosterone metabolites in feces [FCM] collected from individual snow burrows). We also measured feeding time allocation (activity budgets reconstructed from radio-emitted signals) in response to anthropogenic disturbance. Finally, we estimated the related extra energy expenditure that may be incurred: based on activity budgets, energy expenditure was modeled from measures of metabolism obtained from captive birds subjected to different ambient temperatures. The pattern of FCM excretion indicated the existence of a funneling effect as predicted by the allostatic theory of stress: initial stress hormone concentrations showed a wide inter-individual variation, which decreased during experimental flushing. Individuals with low initial pre-flushing FCM values augmented their concentration, while individuals with high initial FCM values lowered it. Experimental disturbance resulted in an extension of feeding duration during the following evening foraging bout, confirming the prediction that Black Grouse must compensate for the extra energy expenditure elicited by human disturbance. Birds with low initial baseline FCM concentrations were those that spent more time foraging. These FCM excretion and foraging patterns suggest that birds with high initial FCM concentrations might have been experiencing a situation of allostatic overload. The energetic model provides quantitative estimates of extra energy expenditure. A longer exposure to ambient temperatures outside the shelter of snow burrows, following disturbance, could increase the daily energy expenditure by >10%, depending principally on ambient temperature and duration of exposure. This study confirms the predictions of allostatic theory and, to the best of our knowledge, constitutes the first demonstration of a funneling effect. It further establishes that winter recreation activities incur costly allostatic behavioral and energetic adjustments, which call for the creation of winter refuge areas together with the implementation of visitor-steering measures for sensitive wildlife.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE)
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE) > Conservation Biology

UniBE Contributor:

Arlettaz, Raphaël; Nusslé, Sébastien; Patthey, Patrick and Genoud, Michel


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
500 Science > 590 Animals (Zoology)




Ecological Society of America




Olivier Roth

Date Deposited:

27 Sep 2016 11:02

Last Modified:

17 Nov 2016 11:04

Publisher DOI:






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