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Conflict of energies: Spatially modeling mule deer caloric expenditure in response to oil and gas development

September 21, 2022


Wildlife avoid human disturbances, including roads and development. Avoidance and displacement of wildlife into less suitable habitat due to human development can affect their energy expenditures and fitness. The heart rate and oxygen uptake of large mammals varies with both natural aspects of their habitat (terrain, climate, predators, etc.) and anthropogenic influence (noise, light, fragmentation, etc.). Although incorporating physiological analyses of energetics can inform the impacts of both development and conservation, management decisions rarely incorporate individuals’ energetic requirements when deciding on locations for potential development.


We aimed to estimate the change in expected energy expenditure, numerically and spatially, for mule deer to traverse a landscape with varying levels of oil and gas development through time.


Using calculations of energy expenditure of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) by weight, in relation to physical terrain components, plus avoidance factors for anthropogenic disturbance, we developed a spatiotemporal model of the minimum energy required for mule deer to traverse a landscape. We compared expected energy expenditure across 12 study sites with increasing levels of oil and gas development and over time in our study area, on the northern Colorado Plateau of Utah.


We found that energy expenditure can be increased by development, regardless of terrain, through increased travel distance associated with avoidance behavior. Maximum median energy expenditure to traverse a 1400 ha sample area rose from 1135 to 1935 kilocalories, a 70% increase in energy required of a mule deer. There was a significant relationship between energy expenditure and the size of oil and gas development (p < 0.001), its compactness (p < 0.05), and its ‘thinness’ (p < 0.001), but not terrain ruggedness (p = 0.25).


As the energy costs of movement correlate across multiple species of large mammals, our analysis of the energetic cost, for mule deer, associated with development can serve as a quantitative representative of the impacts of oil and gas development for multiple mammals—including threatened or endangered species. Our bioenergetic cost-distance model provides a means of delineating impediments to efficient movement and can be used to quantify the expected energetic costs of proposed future developments. As wildlife are exposed to increasing anthropogenic stressors which reduce fitness, it is important to make strategic siting decisions to reduce energetic costs imposed by human activities.

Publication Year 2022
Title Conflict of energies: Spatially modeling mule deer caloric expenditure in response to oil and gas development
DOI 10.1007/s10980-022-01521-w
Authors Samuel Norton Chambers, Miguel L. Villarreal, Olivia Jane Marie Duane, Seth M. Munson, Erica Francis Stuber, Gayle L Tyree, Eric K Waller, Michael C. Duniway
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Landscape Ecology
Index ID 70237705
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center; Western Geographic Science Center