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Conflict of energies: spatially modeling mule deer caloric expenditure in response to oil and gas development

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Abstract

Context

Wildlife avoid human disturbances, including roads and development. Avoidance and displacement of wildlife into less suitable habitat due to human development can affect their energy expenditures and fitness. The heart rate and oxygen uptake of large mammals varies with both natural aspects of their habitat (terrain, climate, predators, etc.) and anthropogenic influence (noise, light, fragmentation, etc.). Although incorporating physiological analyses of energetics can inform the impacts of both development and conservation, management decisions rarely incorporate individuals’ energetic requirements when deciding on locations for potential development.

Objectives

We aimed to estimate the change in expected energy expenditure, numerically and spatially, for mule deer to traverse a landscape with varying levels of oil and gas development through time.

Methods

Using calculations of energy expenditure of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) by weight, in relation to physical terrain components, plus avoidance factors for anthropogenic disturbance, we developed a spatiotemporal model of the minimum energy required for mule deer to traverse a landscape. We compared expected energy expenditure across 12 study sites with increasing levels of oil and gas development and over time in our study area, on the northern Colorado Plateau of Utah.

Results

We found that energy expenditure can be increased by development, regardless of terrain, through increased travel distance associated with avoidance behavior. Maximum median energy expenditure to traverse a 1400 ha sample area rose from 1135 to 1935 kilocalories, a 70% increase in energy required of a mule deer. There was a significant relationship between energy expenditure and the size of oil and gas development (p < 0.001), its compactness (p < 0.05), and its ‘thinness’ (p < 0.001), but not terrain ruggedness (p = 0.25).

Conclusion

As the energy costs of movement correlate across multiple species of large mammals, our analysis of the energetic cost, for mule deer, associated with development can serve as a quantitative representative of the impacts of oil and gas development for multiple mammals—including threatened or endangered species. Our bioenergetic cost-distance model provides a means of delineating impediments to efficient movement and can be used to quantify the expected energetic costs of proposed future developments. As wildlife are exposed to increasing anthropogenic stressors which reduce fitness, it is important to make strategic siting decisions to reduce energetic costs imposed by human activities.

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Data availability

Spatial data layers of avoidance areas and metadata are available as a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Data Release at the USGS data repository ScienceBase (Chambers et al. 2022; https://doi.org/10.5066/P99JGAYG).

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Matthew Kauffman of the USGS for an early review of the manuscript. We would also like to thank the Southwest Energy Development and Reclamation (SWEDR) project team for their feedback and support. Use of trade, product, or firm names is for information purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Funding

Funding for this work was provided by the U.S. Geological Survey Priority Ecosystems Sciences Program and Ecosystem Mission Area, and U.S. Geological Survey Land Change Science Program and Core Science Systems Mission Area.

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Conceptualization: SC, MLV, MCD. Data preparation: SC, MLV, OD, GT, EKW. Analysis: SC. Methodology: SC, MLV, OD, SMM, ES, GT, EKW, MCD. Writing: SC, MLV, OD, SMM, ES, GT, EKW, MCD.

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Correspondence to Sam Chambers.

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Chambers, S., Villarreal, M.L., Duane, O. et al. Conflict of energies: spatially modeling mule deer caloric expenditure in response to oil and gas development. Landsc Ecol 37, 2947–2961 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-022-01521-w

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