Date of Award
Master of Science
Animals that thrive in urban settings show a variety of adaptations to the highly disturbed, fragmented, and human-influenced environment present in cities. One adaptation is to decrease the flight response to human disturbance while increasing alert behaviors. This change increases fitness because frequent flight in response to increased human disturbance associated with a city environment would result in decreased foraging time, increased energy expenditure and increased stress levels. I tested the flight behavior of 66 woodchucks at various levels of urbanization and observed 20 woodchucks for vigilance behavior. I collected land-use and disturbance data on-site at each burrow, and recording these data in a binary code. I used hierarchical clustering to sort burrows based on similarity of landscape and behavioral features into 4 clusters of varying degrees of urbanization. Results showed that woodchucks in the urban clusters allowed a human to approach closer than rural woodchucks (i.e., shorter flight initiation distances). Although urban woodchucks spent less time fleeing, they spent more time alert while foraging, indicating increased vigilance. These results suggest that urban woodchucks have behavioral plasticity when exposed to the frequent disturbances present in urban environments. This plasticity is reflected in their ability to adjust flight behavior to minimize energy expenditure, while increasing alert behavior so that true threats can be identified.
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