Disturbance type and species life history predict mammal responses to humans

Justin P. Suraci, Kaitlyn M. Gaynor, Maximilian L. Allen, Peter Alexander, Justin S. Brashares, Sara Cendejas-Zarelli, Kevin Crooks, L. Mark Elbroch, Tavis Forrester, Austin M. Green, Jeffrey Haight, Nyeema C. Harris, Mark Hebblewhite, Forest Isbell, Barbara Johnston, Roland Kays, Patrick E. Lendrum, Jesse S. Lewis, Alex McInturff, William McSheaThomas W. Murphy, Meredith S. Palmer, Arielle Parsons, Mitchell A. Parsons, Mary E. Pendergast, Charles Pekins, Laura R. Prugh, Kimberly A. Sager-Fradkin, Stephanie Schuttler, Çağan H. Şekercioğlu, Brenda Shepherd, Laura Whipple, Jesse Whittington, George Wittemyer, Christopher C. Wilmers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Human activity and land use change impact every landscape on Earth, driving declines in many animal species while benefiting others. Species ecological and life history traits may predict success in human-dominated landscapes such that only species with “winning” combinations of traits will persist in disturbed environments. However, this link between species traits and successful coexistence with humans remains obscured by the complexity of anthropogenic disturbances and variability among study systems. We compiled detection data for 24 mammal species from 61 populations across North America to quantify the effects of (1) the direct presence of people and (2) the human footprint (landscape modification) on mammal occurrence and activity levels. Thirty-three percent of mammal species exhibited a net negative response (i.e., reduced occurrence or activity) to increasing human presence and/or footprint across populations, whereas 58% of species were positively associated with increasing disturbance. However, apparent benefits of human presence and footprint tended to decrease or disappear at higher disturbance levels, indicative of thresholds in mammal species’ capacity to tolerate disturbance or exploit human-dominated landscapes. Species ecological and life history traits were strong predictors of their responses to human footprint, with increasing footprint favoring smaller, less carnivorous, faster-reproducing species. The positive and negative effects of human presence were distributed more randomly with respect to species trait values, with apparent winners and losers across a range of body sizes and dietary guilds. Differential responses by some species to human presence and human footprint highlight the importance of considering these two forms of human disturbance separately when estimating anthropogenic impacts on wildlife. Our approach provides insights into the complex mechanisms through which human activities shape mammal communities globally, revealing the drivers of the loss of larger predators in human-modified landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3718-3731
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • anthropogenic disturbance
  • carnivore
  • conservation
  • environmental filter
  • human footprint index
  • human-wildlife coexistence
  • occupancy
  • traits
  • ungulate
  • wildlife


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