Part of the allure of winter sports is that skiers, snowboarders, and hikers get to experience the natural landscape. Unfortunately, a new study shows that those outdoors enthusiasts are stressing other alpine inhabitants.
A BBC article explains that the black grouse, which makes protective igloos to hide in when it’s not foraging, produces high levels of a stress hormone when forced out of its burrow:
"Rising winter temperatures are reducing the availability of these hiding places on lower slopes, while this new study, by scientists based in Switzerland and Austria, suggests the growing popularity of "extreme" winter sports is affecting their chances higher up the slopes."
To get their results, scientists imitated winter athletes and forced grouse out of their igloos. When they tested grouse feces, they found high levels of corticosterone, a stress hormone.
Stressed out animals can stop reproducing, and when animals are forced from their homes they can suffer from cold and be easily snatched up by predators. Although the study didn’t look at specific consequences of stress, it does shows that when surrounded by people the birds could be at a disadvantage.
This is not the first time that studies show how winter sports negatively affect animals. According to an article in New Scientist:
"Numbers of animals have declined by up to a half in some areas close to ski resorts, adding to a growing body of evidence that tourism has a detrimental impact on wildlife around the world."
If you’re planning on making one last trip to the slopes this season, just remember that you could be sharing your run with wildlife. Try not to kill the animals when you’re killin’ it on the mountain.
Story by Susan Cosier. This article originally appeared in Plenty in March 2007. This story was added to MNN.com in July 2009.