Impact of human nuisance disturbance on vigilance and group size of a social ungulate Academic Article uri icon


  • In social ungulates, the proportion of time devoted to vigilance is a function of group size (known as the group size effect). We studied how varying levels of human, disturbance influence this function in the mountain gazelle (Gazella gazella) along the southern coastal plain of Israel. Based on current theory, we predicted that changes in the slope of this function should be associated with changes in average group size. In heavily disturbed areas, individual vigilance levels increased in the bigger groups, causing the vigilance vs. group size curve to flatten, i.e., vigilance was high in all group sizes. Consequently, and in accordance with theory, we found a negative relationship between group size and human disturbance. Specifically, we found that-in open areas with low disturbance levels, gazelles wore in bigger groups than in open areas with high disturbance levels. In social species, the disruption of behavioral patterns by increased human presence can affect their social structure. Because social structure is a key component in the evolution and dynamics of social species, its disruption by human disturbance can have a considerable effect on population performance even if the disturbance does not, directly impact survival and reproduction. Social disruption due to increased access to natural areas should be an important consideration in managing fragmented landscapes.

publication date

  • January 1, 2003