New study shows animals may get used to drones

January 15, 2019

A new study in Conservation Physiology shows that over time, bears get used to drones. Previous work indicated that animals behave fearfully or show a stress response near drone flights. Using heart monitors to gauge stress, however, researchers here found that bears habituated to drones over a 3 to 4-week period and remained habituated.

Unmanned aircraft systems provide new opportunities for data collection in ecology, wildlife biology, and conservation. Yet, several studies have documented changes in animal behavior near close-proximity drone flights. Drones may disturb animals more than other aerial survey methods due to their ability to fly and hover at low altitudes. Indeed, numerous studies have observed responses of wildlife to drones. Bears do not often display behavioral signs of fear (e.g., fleeing) but in extreme cases, their heart rates nearly quadrupled (162 beats per minute) compared to pre-flight baseline data (41 beats per minute).

Researchers here tested whether American black bears acclimatize to repeated drone exposure, and whether tolerance levels persist during an extended period without drone flights. Using implanted cardiac biologgers, the team measured the heart rate of five captive bears before and after drone flights. The researchers halted drone flights for 118 days, and then resumed. Black bears showed clear signs of increased tolerance to drones, both short-term and long-term. Additionally, their tolerance to the flights was maintained after a hiatus of more than three months.

The researchers here emphasize that the rate of habituation is likely to be species dependent. Bears in general adjust to frequent contact with people, showing less fear after repeated exposure accordingly; bears may be predisposed to becoming tolerant of novel disturbances. Other animals are much less likely to get used to such disturbances.

"It's important to note that the individual bears in this study did show a stress response to the initial drone flights, said the paper's lead author, Mark Ditmer. "Close-proximity drone flights near wildlife should be avoided without a valid purpose. However, our findings do show that drone use in conservation, for things such as anti-poaching patrols, can provide benefits without long-term high- stress consequences."
The paper "Bears habituate to the repeated exposure of a novel stimulus, unmanned aircraft systems" is available at:

Direct correspondence to:

Mark A. Ditmer
Department of Fisheries, Wildlife & Conservation Biology
University of Minnesota
St. Paul, MN, 55108

To request a copy of the study, please contact:

Daniel Luzer

Oxford University Press USA

Related Conservation Articles from Brightsurf:

New guide on using drones for conservation
Drones are a powerful tool for conservation - but they should only be used after careful consideration and planning, according to a new report.

Elephant genetics guide conservation
A large-scale study of African elephant genetics in Tanzania reveals the history of elephant populations, how they interact, and what areas may be critical to conserve in order to preserve genetic diversity of the species.

Measuring the true cost of conservation
BU Professor created the first high-resolution map of land value in the United states.

Environmental groups moving beyond conservation
Although non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become powerful voices in world environmental politics, little is known of the global picture of this sector.

Hunting for the next generation of conservation stewards
Wildlife ecology students become the professionals responsible for managing the biodiversity of natural systems for species conservation.

Conservation research on lynx
Scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (Leibniz-FMP) discovered that selected anti-oxidative enzymes, especially the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD2), may play an important role to maintain the unusual longevity of the corpus luteum in lynxes.

New 'umbrella' species would massively improve conservation
The protection of Australia's threatened species could be improved by a factor of seven, if more efficient 'umbrella' species were prioritised for protection, according to University of Queensland research.

Trashed farmland could be a conservation treasure
Low-productivity agricultural land could be transformed into millions of hectares of conservation reserve across the world, according to University of Queensland-led research.

Bats in attics might be necessary for conservation
Researchers investigate and describe the conservation importance of buildings relative to natural, alternative roosts for little brown bats in Yellowstone National Park.

Applying biodiversity conservation research in practice
One million species are threatened with extinction, many of them already in the coming decades.

Read More: Conservation News and Conservation Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to