Researchers to track human impacts on Isle Royale wildlife

Do animals avoid areas that are traveled heavily by people? Visitors to Isle Royale National Park this summer are being asked to share data about their hiking routes as part of a project to study wildlife behavior.

A backpacker on Isle Royale. (Ken Lund/Flickr)

Researchers with the State University of New York (SUNY) are asking visitors to the park in Lake Superior to use the Strava app when on the island. The app, popular with runners and cyclists, tracks routes and provides anonymized data to the public. By pairing visitor use patterns with a network of wildlife cameras installed on the island over the past two years, the study hopes to better understand the interactions between people and animals.

“Combining anonymous data from hikers will allow us to better understand how wildlife respond to human use and overall animal use of the trail network,” the researchers say. They are interested in whether or not patterns in wildlife can be detected that show they avoid areas popular with people. They also are investigating how much animals use the trail network themselves.

In a 2017 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, scientists from Texas, Oregon, and Utah used GPS to better understand the impact on wildlife of “silent sports” like hiking.

Hiking on Isle Royale. (National Park Service)

“Although recreation disturbance may occur in a relatively small percentage of a landscape … the disturbance can be quite detrimental if it occurs in vital habitat,” the paper’s authors reported.

The 500,000-acre Isle Royale National Park is located about 17 miles off the North Shore of Minnesota. It is home to wolves and moose that have been the subject of a long-running study, as well as foxes, deer, martens, and other creatures the team plans to study.

Approximately 18,000 people visited Isle Royale in 2019, making it one of the least visited National Parks in America. The park was closed to visitors in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hiking boot and wolf track on Isle Royale. (als pictures/Flickr)

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