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WARNING: Hiking in Protected Areas Can Negatively Affect Wildlife

Dec 19, 2016 04:15 AM EST

A new study led by Colorado State University (CSU) and Wildlife Conservation Society revealed that outdoor recreation activities in protected areas can do more harm than benefit in wildlife living in the area.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, showed that outdoor recreation activities, such as hiking, in protected areas can negatively affect wildlife by making nearby animals flee, taking time away from feeding and expending their reserved energy.

"People generally assume that recreation activities are compatible with conservation goals for protected areas," said Courtney Larson, a graduate student at CSU's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology and lead author of the study, in a press release. "However, our review of the evidence across wildlife species and habitat types worldwide suggests otherwise."

For the study, the researchers analyzed 274 scientific articles that were published between 1981 and 2015. These articles discuss the potential effects of recreation on different animal species living across all geographical areas.

Among the reviewed scientific articles, the researchers observed more than 93 percent indicated at least one impact of recreation on animals living nearby. Out of those, about 59 percent were negative. Reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates are at most risk of the negative impact of recreation activities. On the other hand, birds in the crow family and mammals in the rodent family seem to benefit from recreation activities in protected areas. These benefits include increased abundance and reduced flight responses.

The most documented negative impact of recreation activities includes decrease in species diversity. The researchers also observed that the species negatively affected by recreation activity experience decreased survival, reproduction and abundance. These species may also experience behavioral and psychological disturbances, such as decrease in foraging and increased stress.

With their findings, the researchers noted that there should be a clear distinction between recreation and conservation, and the combination of the two is not appropriate for all species, in all location. The study also shows the importance of developing a science-based solution to avoid or reduce the negative impacts of recreation activity, especially now that 94 percent of the protected areas around the world are open for nature-loving tourists.

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