Effect of Recreational Trails on Forest Birds: Human Presence Matters

Authors: , Yves Botsch, Zulima Tablado, Daniel Scherl, Marc Kery, Roland F. Graf, Luka Jenni

Year: 2018

Publisher: Frontier Ecology and Evolution

Categories: recreation, ecology, biodiversity, mountain biking, impacts


Outdoor recreational activities are increasing worldwide and occur at high frequency especially close to cities. 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, which may perceive humans as potential predators. Many of these activities rely on trails, which intersect an otherwise contiguous habitat and hence impact wildlife habitat. 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 we compared the effects of recreational trails on birds in two forests frequently used by recreationists with that in two rarely visited forests. In each forest, we conducted paired point counts to investigate the differences between the avian community close (50 m) and far (120 m) from trails, while accounting for possible habitat differences, and, for imperfect detection, by applying a multi-species N-mixture model. We 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 (−13 and −4% respectively), whereas such an effect was not statistically discernible in the forests with a low-recreation-level. Additionally we found indications that the effects of human presence varied depending on the traits of the species. These findings imply that the mere presence of humans can negatively affect the forest bird community along trails. Visitor guidance is an effective conservation measure to reduce the negative impacts of recreationists. In addition, prevention of trail construction in undeveloped natural habitats would reduce human access, and thus disturbance, most efficiently.