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Behavioural Plasticity by Eastern Grey Kangaroos in Response to Human Behaviour

Centre for Compassionate Conservation, Faculty of Science, University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo, NSW 2007, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(5), 244;
Received: 13 March 2019 / Revised: 11 April 2019 / Accepted: 1 May 2019 / Published: 15 May 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Behaviour and Management of Urban Wildlife)
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Simple Summary

Many species of wildlife live in landscapes they share with people. Some exploit resources and protection provided by close proximity to people, while others learn to avoid people all together. In this study, we sought to test whether individuals from a population of eastern grey kangaroos altered grouping and spacing behaviour in response to human presence, depending upon whether the intent and actions of those people were benign or harmful. Under harmful conditions, kangaroos failed to form larger groups when far from cover, however, this typical antipredator grouping behaviour persisted when human disturbances were benign. These differences in grouping and spacing behaviour suggest that kangaroos can exhibit bidirectional behavioural plasticity at fine scales, a trait that may confer adaptive advantages when sharing landscapes with humans.


Sharing landscapes with humans is an increasingly fraught challenge for wildlife across the globe. While some species benefit from humans by exploiting novel opportunities (e.g., provision of resources or removal of competitors or predators), many wildlife experience harmful effects, either directly through persecution or indirectly through loss of habitat. Consequently, some species have been shown to be attracted to human presence while others avoid us. For any given population of a single species, though, the question of whether they can recognise and change their response to human presence depending on the type of human actions (i.e., either positive or negative) has received little attention to date. In this study, we chose to examine the behavioural plasticity within a single population of eastern grey kangaroos (Macropus giganteus) to both positive and negative human activity. Within a relatively small and contiguous landscape, we identified areas where kangaroos experience a combination of either low and high frequencies of benign and harmful human disturbances. From six sampling sessions over five months, we found that density and group sizes were higher where humans acted benignly towards them, and that these groups had higher representations of sub-adults and juveniles than where humans had harmful intentions. Importantly, we found that the vital antipredator strategy of increasing group size with distance from cover was not detectable at sites with low and high levels of harm. Our findings suggest that these kangaroos are recognising and adjusting their behavioural response to humans at fine spatial scales, a plasticity trait that may be key to the survival of these species in human dominated landscapes. View Full-Text
Keywords: adaptation; behavioural plasticity; eastern grey kangaroos; grouping behaviour; human behaviour; human shield; hunting adaptation; behavioural plasticity; eastern grey kangaroos; grouping behaviour; human behaviour; human shield; hunting

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Austin, C.M.; Ramp, D. Behavioural Plasticity by Eastern Grey Kangaroos in Response to Human Behaviour. Animals 2019, 9, 244.

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