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Risk perception of nesting Great Blue Herons: experimental evidence of habituation

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The nesting behaviour of the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias L., 1758) was studied in western Canada in 1998 and 1999 to (i) investigate how individual parents assess risk when repeatedly exposed to a disturbance stimulus (an investigator) and (ii) experimentally test in the field whether any variation in their nest defense behaviour was due to experience with the disturbance stimuli or the stage of the nesting period. Heron response declined through the nesting period and the level of response varied among colonies, suggesting different perceptions of risk among groups of herons in the study. It was experimentally shown that variation in the response of herons through one nesting period was due to both behavioural habituation and the stage of the nesting period. Response was stronger in 1999 than in 1998, indicating that habituation did not hold between nesting periods. In general, habituation in herons may bode well for their potential to persist in areas with light human use. But irrespective of habituation, stimuli early in the nesting period and large or novel events may still cause herons to abandon their nests owing to the effects of the stage of the nesting period.

Le comportement de nidification du grand héron (Ardea herodias L., 1758) a été examiné dans l’Ouest canadien en 1998 et 1999 afin (i) d’étudier comment les parents individuels évaluent le risque lorsqu’ils sont exposés à répétition à un stimulus de perturbation (présence d’un chercheur) et (ii) de vérifier expérimentalement en nature si la variation de leur comportement de défense du nid est due à leur expérience vis-à-vis le stimulus de perturbation ou au stade de la période de nidification. Les réactions des hérons diminuent au cours de la période de nidification et l’importance de la réaction varie d’une colonie à l’autre, ce qui indique qu’il y a des différences de perception des risques parmi les groupes de hérons à l’étude. Des expériences montrent que la variation des réactions des hérons au cours d’une période de nidification est due tant à l’habituation comportementale qu’au stade de la période de nidification. Les réactions ont été plus fortes en 1999 qu’en 1998, ce qui indique que l’habituation ne se maintient pas d’une période de nidification à l’autre. En général, l’habituation chez les hérons est un signe encourageant pour le potentiel de persistance des hérons dans les zones de faible utilisation humaine. Mais malgré l’habituation, des stimuli tôt dans la période de nidification et des événements importants ou inédits peuvent encore amener les hérons à abandonner leur nid à cause des effets associés au stade de la période de nidification.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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