Hikers appear to have a strong negative influence on the movement of wildlife, research finds.

A study of Glacier National Park hiking trails during and after a COVID-19 closure adds evidence to the theory that humans can create a “landscape of fear,” as do other apex predators. Their presence seems to change how species use an area.

Researchers found that when human hikers were present, 16 out of 22 mammal species—predators and prey alike—changed where and when they used areas. Some completely abandoned places they previously used, others used them less frequently, and some shifted to more nocturnal activities to avoid humans.

Daniel Thornton.

“When the park was open to the public, and there were a lot of hikers and recreators using the area, we saw a bunch of changes in how animals were using that same area,” says Daniel Thornton, wildlife ecologist at Washington State University and senior author of the study in the journal Scientific Reports.

“The surprising thing is that there’s no other real human disturbance out there because Glacier is such a highly protected national park, so these responses really are being driven by human presence and human noise.”

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