Does Watching a Monkey Change its Behaviour? Quantifying Observer Effects in Habituated Wild Primates using Automated Radiotelemetry
|Title||Does Watching a Monkey Change its Behaviour? Quantifying Observer Effects in Habituated Wild Primates using Automated Radiotelemetry|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2010|
|Authors||Crofoot, MC, Lambert, TD, Kays, RW, Wikelski, M|
|Keywords||Barro Colorado Island, Panama; Cebus capucinus; habituation; telemetry|
In studies of animal behaviour, researchers have long been concerned that their presence may change the conduct of their study subjects. To minimize observer effects, researchers often habituate their study animals. The premise of this method is that, with sufficient neutral exposure, animals will stop reacting to humans. While numerous studies demonstrate that negative responses to humans decrease over time, the fact that an animal does not flee from or behave aggressively towards observers cannot be taken as evidence that it is not altering its behaviour in other, more subtle ways. Because remotely monitoring the behaviour of wild animals is difficult, it has not been possible to answer the critical question: do habituated animals change their behaviour when researchers are present? Here, we use data from an automated radiotelemetry system that remotely monitored the movement and activity of radiocollared animals to test whether observers affected the behaviour of seven habituated white-faced capuchins, Cebus capucinus. We found no evidence that observers influenced the ranging behaviour or activity patterns of their study subjects. Capuchins did not move faster, stop to rest less frequently, or display higher levels of activity when they were being followed compared to when they were alone. It has been suggested that researchers may embolden habituated study subjects, artificially increasing their relative dominance, but we found no relationship between observer presence and proximity to neighbouring social groups. Although it remains possible that observer effects existed but were too subtle to be detected with the remote sensing technology we used, the results of this study nevertheless provide reassuring evidence that humans can observe habituated wild animals without overly influencing the animals’ activity and movement patterns.