Evaluating the behavioural response of moose (Alces alces) to acoustic stimuli

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Ecology

Abstract: Fear in animals is a motivational state that cause the animals to change their behaviour. Anti-predator behaviour is innate behaviours shown by prey species in situations where there is an increased risk of predation. This can be caused by the presence of the actual predator or by implied presence by acoustic, olfactory or visual cues. Such cues may provide a potential tool in management and can be used to elicit desired behavioural responses in animals such as moving away from the cue. Therefore, it is important to investigate what types of acoustic stimuli makes ungulates leave or increase their vigilance, in comparison to what acoustic stimuli will make them exhibit a non-disturbed behaviour such as feeding. In this study, I investigated how wild moose (Alces alces) that visited saltlick-stones in the forest responded to different acoustic stimuli: dog barking, human voice and bird calls (owl at night and woodpecker at daytime), compared to when moose are undisturbed by acoustic stimuli. The main research questions were: (1) Does any of the stimuli make moose leave the site more often than when undisturbed?; (2) How does the stimuli affect the amount of time moose spend vigilant or feeding?; and (3) After exposure to a stimuli, how long does it take before moose return to the site? I found that when exposed to human stimuli, moose left the attractive saltlick-stone in 75% of the events, which were significantly more often compared to when exposed to the sounds of (dog 39%, bird 24% and when undisturbed 11%). If moose did not leave the site, they spent more time vigilant and less time feeding, particularly when exposed to a dog or human stimuli. However, this response was also true for the non-threatening bird stimuli compared to when they were entirely undisturbed. When exposed to any of the three acoustic stimuli, moose took significantly longer to return to a site compared to when they were undisturbed. Longest time to return was after human stimuli. These results suggest that acoustic stimuli may be used in management situations where the aim is to evoke a quick flight response. Acoustic signals may hence serve as a potential measure to prevent ungulate-vehicle collisions.

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