Sound the stressor: how Hoatzins (Opisthocomus hoazin) react to ecotourist conversation
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Exposure to ecotourists often disrupts animal behavior, which is known to contribute to heightened mortality rates. In the Amazon, the emblematic, communal nesting Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) is frequently pursued by tourists eager for close views. Such encounters may cause heightened stress levels, and egg or nestling predation due to decreased parental attendance to nests and nestlings. The effect of reducing conversational tourist noise near wildlife is poorly understood, but represents one potential mechanism of mitigating the impacts of ecotourists on wildlife. In this study, we approached Hoatzins by canoe, playing recorded tourist conversations at different volumes. Both the distances from which we observed Hoatzins becoming agitated (e.g., clucking, defecation, etc.) and flush (e.g., flight or climbing away) were positively correlated with volume. Within 10 weeks Hoatzins began to habituate to silent approaches. Tourist conversations, however, continued to elicit the same heightened disturbance responses throughout data collection. Therefore, to have the best chance of seeing Hoatzins at a short distance and minimizing potentially negative disturbances, ecotourists should cease all conversation. Although not tested, silence is probably the best strategy when looking for many wildlife species.
KeywordsEcotourism Noise Hoatzin Bird Conversation Tropical Flight initiation distance
Agitation initiation distance
Flight initiation distance
We would like to extend our gratitude to Rodolfo Dirzo, Bill Durham, and Rainforest Expeditions for their support and guidance throughout the creation and execution of this study. Additionally, this project would not have been possible without the financial support from the Undergraduate Research Programs and the Latin American Studies departments at Stanford University. For assistance with statistical analysis, we would like to thank Dr. Eduardo Mendoza and Dr. Roger Guevara. Finally, we thank Alexander Markham, Matthew Champoux, Cristin Weekley, and Katy McCown for help in data collection.
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