This is a very cool (how scientific of a term) study, but something that isn’t terribly surprising. Many prey species use human-dominated areas as refuges from both predators and people. Deer will move into suburban areas during hunting seasons, elk will stick in places like Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone to avoid bears and wolves.
Nonetheless, it is important to quantitatively document this and I commend the authors for doing so. I bet this could be done in many areas, as prey are intelligent as well and do what they can (and have learned) to survive.
Indeed this is in need of quantitative documentation. A companion phenomenon is whether the presence of humans also creates habitat prey find more attractive than natural habitat for their survival.
For example, adjacent to RMNP and ONP and maybe Yellowstone and Teton, human created habitat (my favorite from memory is the western fringe of the town of Boulder, CO), with lush flower gardens, golf courses and agricultural fields also creates tastier and often more nutritious food sources on a year round basis.
The prey mammals move to these areas even in the absence of predator or hunter risk. So in that sense there may actually be some human attractant for prey, and if predators are hungry enough, as they sometimes are they, they may come into the human occupied places after the prey (think cougar and Boulder, wolves and bear at Mammoth Hot Springs). This combination of prey sanctuary from predators AND the fact that some prey just like the menu in town better than in the brush, is a reason why Rocky Mountain NP and Sequim north of Olympic NP decided proposed wolf reintroductions to those areas were problematic. On the advice of their Canadian cousins in Banff, they decided against wolf reintroduction (if I recall Ed Bangs was involved in both).
Query whether winter range unoccupied by humans is as inviting to prey mammals as winter range occupied by humans as deterrents to predators AND with a better survival menu (rose bushes, elderberry bushes, orchard trees, golf course grass), and maybe even shelter? I can say from personal experience elk really like tender young apple and cherry branch chutes and buds as compared to trying to root out a few sparse grass stalks from between sagebrush clumps.
I also have friends in WY who have moose that love their south facing daylight basement. They get shelter from the wind and snow under the deck, and the cement wall sometimes heats up some as compared to surroundings. The biggest predator risk they face is the occasional dog, which they will chase away pretty quickly. They work over the shrubbery pretty good to.
Thanks for your comments, which I completely agree with. Interesting dynamics, and I believe we really have to reconsider how humans view their ecological roles. Most importantly, the myth that we are taking away animal’s habitat is only partially true. Ultimately, we might be modifying or “taking away” pristine habitat, but as you say, what we modify is often better in the long-run and I venture to say that predators would also do fine in those areas if it wasn’t for the fact that humans have a hissy fit when they are there…
Research on mule deer – elk habitat partioning has demonstrated that mule deer essentially choose to be where elk are not. Research on the effects of human activity, especially motorized travel, shows that elk choose to move far away from those human activities, while mule deer choose to seek hiding cover CLOSE to those human activities.
Of course! Most predators are on the top of their food chain and thus compete for control. Unfortunately humans and our civilization is very efficient competing within virtually all predator niches which means, in time, unchecked we will exterminate all competitive species.
Now have learned many years ago while hiking and wandering thru the wild Absarokas that many times the Grizzlies are just as afraid of us as we are of them. And that many a time the Grizzlies do NOT want a close encounter to us Human Two Leggeds as we do not want a close encounter to a Grizzly. So when wandering the backcountry, living in balance and harmony goes a long ways. I find many people taking over wherever they camp and go in the backcountry. I personally try to give the animals the space they desire and deserve. But I just bet this information one day might be used to keep people out of the wilds and keep uus in our cities and towns where the authorities will be able to keep track of us. Just My opinion.