Effect of Recreational Trails on Forest Birds: Human Presence Matters

Recreational activities in nature have increased enormously in the last decades. This trend is raising concerns of researchers and conservationists about the potential impact of human recreation on wild animals. Humans are often perceived as potential predators by wildlife. Thus, when exposed to human presence, animals may react with important changes in their behavior and physiology, which in turn might have consequences for individual fitness and the dynamics of animal populations.

Forests are a natural environment often used for such activities as jogging, hiking, dog walking, mountain biking, or horse riding. The mere presence of people in forests can disturb wildlife. Many of these activities rely on trails, which intersect an otherwise contiguous habitat and hence impact wildlife.

The aim of this study was to separate the effect of the change in vegetation and habitat structure through trails, from the effect of human presence using these trails, on forest bird communities. Therefore the scientists compared the effects of recreational trails on birds in two forests frequently used by recreationists with that in two rarely visited forests.

They found that in the disturbed (i.e., high-recreation-level forests), the density of birds and species richness were both reduced at points close to trails when compared to points further away, whereas such an effect was not statistically discernible in the forests with a low-recreation-level.

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