Bears Show a Physiological but Limited Behavioral Response to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Mark A. Ditmer, John B. Vincent, Leland K. Werden, Jessie C. Tanner, Timothy G. Laske, Paul A. Iaizzo, David L. Garshelis, John R. Fieberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have the potential to revolutionize the way research is conducted in many scientific fields [1, 2]. UAVs can access remote or difficult terrain [3], collect large amounts of data for lower cost than traditional aerial methods, and facilitate observations of species that are wary of human presence [4]. Currently, despite large regulatory hurdles [5], UAVs are being deployed by researchers and conservationists to monitor threats to biodiversity [6], collect frequent aerial imagery [7-9], estimate population abundance [4, 10], and deter poaching [11]. Studies have examined the behavioral responses of wildlife to aircraft [12-20] (including UAVs [21]), but with the widespread increase in UAV flights, it is critical to understand whether UAVs act as stressors to wildlife and to quantify that impact. Biologger technology allows for the remote monitoring of stress responses in free-roaming individuals [22], and when linked to locational information, it can be used to determine events [19, 23, 24] or components of an animal's environment [25] that elicit a physiological response not apparent based on behavior alone. We assessed effects of UAV flights on movements and heart rate responses of free-roaming American black bears. We observed consistently strong physiological responses but infrequent behavioral changes. All bears, including an individual denned for hibernation, responded to UAV flights with elevated heart rates, rising as much as 123 beats per minute above the pre-flight baseline. It is important to consider the additional stress on wildlife from UAV flights when developing regulations and best scientific practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2278-2283
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Aug 31 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Institute on the Environment (University of Minnesota) and the International Association for Bear Research and Management provided financial support. We thank T. Baker, L. Dillard, and B. Taylor of the University of Minnesota for advice and technical help. T. Iles, H. Martin, H. Severs-Wilkerson, and M. McMahon assisted with fieldwork. J. Huener and K. Arola of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and G. Knutsen of the USFWS allowed us to use their facilities for fieldwork.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2015 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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