Natural or anthropogenic disturbances (stimuli that trigger a behavioural response from animals) can have direct consequences on fitness and population trends. This study aimed at investigating the relative influence of three types of disturbances (mammalian herbivores, terrestrial threats from ground predators and aerial threats) on the responses by waterbirds at waterpans in Hwange National Park (HNP, Zimbabwe) and adjacent land uses. Thirteen waterpans were monitored during daylight hours between years 2015 and 2017 and responses of waterbirds to the three forms of disturbances were recorded. Logistic regressions revealed that the likelihood of responding was highest after terrestrial threats; with individuals/groups that were initially engaged in non-feeding activities that allowed vigilance, responding the most. Wildfowl species spent significantly longer time flying (compared to waders and generalists), more so in communal areas (CAs) than HNP, and after terrestrial threats compared to aerial threats and herbivore disturbances. We did not find any differences in probability of responding across land uses probably because there is less human disturbance in HNP, but predation risk is high. Further, even though there are less terrestrial predators in CAs, domestic dogs may be maintaining the stimuli. We conclude that terrestrial threats are least tolerated, with species most susceptible to human predation (i.e. wildfowl) losing more time avoiding them. Interestingly, only acute aerial threats induced departure from waterpans. Our findings have a direct implication for waterbird conservation as herbivore and human density in this area are currently increasing.
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Vol. 2020 • No. 2