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Response to short-lived human overcrowding by free-ranging dogs


Interaction with its immediate environment determines the ecology of an organism. Short-lived perturbations in the habitat can adversely affect both wild and domesticated species. When such disturbances are unpredictable, they are more challenging to tackle. Therefore, specific strategies become essential for species to overcome adversities that can alter their dynamics. Species living in the proximity of humans experience significant anthropogenic disturbances. Response to such a disturbance, facilitated by human overcrowding, was studied in an urban-adapted species. Free-ranging dogs (Canis familiaris) found in developing countries can inhabit both urban and rural areas. Dogs present in urban habitats experience tremendous anthropogenic pressure. It is known that human flux can predict variability in their behavior in different ‘microhabitats’. We investigated the effect of a sudden massive surge in human footfall, during a major festival, on their abundance, distribution and behavior. While both abundance and general activity levels declined, vigilance behavior heightened during the festival. The behavioral activity was restored post-event, but dog abundance remained significantly reduced compared to pre-festival levels. Furthermore, we found variations in dog distribution across the sessions with higher dispersion during the festival. Conclusively, this study provides substantial quantitative evidence on the extent to which humans can influence even the behavior of animals well-adapted to urban environments.

Significance statement

Changes in the immediate environment drive organisms to build efficient adaptive strategies. These changes could be both natural, like flood and storm, or anthropogenic, like human overcrowding. The latter especially bestows immense stress on urban living animals, i.e., those that live in close proximity to human settlements. Using an observational study, we show that a sudden surge in human footfall negatively impacts a highly urban-adapted animal, the free-ranging dogs. Dogs lower behavioral activity, become more vigilant and modify their spatial distribution lowering their abundance in such areas. Though short-lived in nature, these disturbances can leave a long-term residual impact on their population. In conclusion, sudden human-induced perturbations can impact even those animals that are considered highly adapted to urban conditions. They are seen to adopt varied strategies to withstand such disturbances in their immediate environment, thus altering their behavioral dynamics.

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Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available in the DRYAD repository: Bhadra, Anindita; Bhattacharjee, Debottam (2021), Data for: Surge in human flux affects dogs, Dryad, Dataset,


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The authors would like to acknowledge Mr Shubhra Sau for assistance during data collection. The authors would like to sincerely thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful and productive comments. The authors would also like to acknowledge the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata for providing infrastructural support. DB would like to thank DST INSPIRE for providing his doctoral fellowship.

Author information




DB and AB conceived the idea and designed the study. DB carried out the field experiments, and did data curation and analysis. DB wrote the first draft of the manuscript. AB edited the manuscript and supervised the work.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anindita Bhadra.

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Ethical approval

The study design did not violate the Animal Ethics regulations of the Government of India (Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, Amendment 1982). The protocol for the experiment was approved by the IISER Kolkata Animal Ethics Committee (approval no. 1385/ac/10/CPCSEA).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This article is a contribution to the Topical Collection Using behavioral ecology to explore adaptive responses to anthropogenic change – Guest Editors: Jan Lindström, Constantino Macias Garcia, Caitlin Gabor

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Bhattacharjee, D., Bhadra, A. Response to short-lived human overcrowding by free-ranging dogs. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 75, 111 (2021).

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  • Anthropogenic disturbance
  • Behavior
  • Dogs
  • Human overcrowding
  • Urban-adapted species