Testing a key assumption of wildlife buffer zones: Is flight initiation distance a species-specific trait?

Daniel T. Blumstein*, Laura L. Anthony, Robert Harcourt, Geoff Ross

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

162 Citations (Scopus)


The distance at which animals flee an approaching predator is known as the 'flight initiation distance' (FID). Wildlife managers use FID to develop buffer zones to reduce human impacts on wildlife. Many variables have been demonstrated to influence FID leading one to question whether it can be viewed as a species-specific trait. We tested this critical assumption for developing buffer zones by experimentally approaching eight species of shorebirds found at six sites around Botany Bay, 15 km south of Sydney, Australia. Botany Bay encompasses a range of human impacted areas, from urban developments with high levels of human presence, through to National Parks and wildlife protection areas where human presence is significantly lower. We found that both species and site influenced the distance birds flew away from an approaching human. Importantly, however, there was no significant statistical interaction between site and species demonstrating that 'flighty' species were consistently flighty while more tolerant species were consistently tolerant. Taken together, these results suggest that FID can therefore be viewed as a species-specific trait for these shorebirds. The great variability in FID suggests that wildlife managers should be somewhat conservative in developing buffer zones, but they can use previously published FID data for a given species as guidelines for setting buffer zones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-100
Number of pages4
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2003


  • flight initiation distance
  • buffer zones
  • human impacts on wildlife
  • set-back distances


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