Behavioural plasticity by Eastern Grey Kangaroos in response to human behaviour

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Animals, 2019, 9 (5)
Issue Date:
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© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. Sharing landscapes with humans is an increasingly fraught challenge for wildlife across the globe. While some species benefit from humans by exploiting novel opportunities (e.g., provision of resources or removal of competitors or predators), many wildlife experience harmful effects, either directly through persecution or indirectly through loss of habitat. Consequently, some species have been shown to be attracted to human presence while others avoid us. For any given population of a single species, though, the question of whether they can recognise and change their response to human presence depending on the type of human actions (i.e., either positive or negative) has received little attention to date. In this study, we chose to examine the behavioural plasticity within a single population of eastern grey kangaroos (Macropus giganteus) to both positive and negative human activity. Within a relatively small and contiguous landscape, we identified areas where kangaroos experience a combination of either low and high frequencies of benign and harmful human disturbances. From six sampling sessions over five months, we found that density and group sizes were higher where humans acted benignly towards them, and that these groups had higher representations of sub-adults and juveniles than where humans had harmful intentions. Importantly, we found that the vital antipredator strategy of increasing group size with distance from cover was not detectable at sites with low and high levels of harm. Our findings suggest that these kangaroos are recognising and adjusting their behavioural response to humans at fine spatial scales, a plasticity trait that may be key to the survival of these species in human dominated landscapes.
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