Date of Award
Master of Science
Human presence and recreational activities can negatively impact wildlife. Due to the popularity of human recreation along bodies of water, waterfowl populations are frequently impacted. Non-consumptive recreation can impact waterfowl by leading to unnecessary expenditure of energy, and exclusion from important feeding areas. These consequences can ultimately impact overwintering and migratory survival as well as breeding success. With recreational demands expected to increase, it is important for waterfowl and habitat managers to understand the immediate and additive impacts of recreational activities and how landscape and seasonal covariates can influence these impacts. Additionally, the presence of researchers and the popular methods used to monitor waterfowl themselves can be intrusive. As advances have been made in optics and other monitoring technologies, wildlife researchers have implemented new methods to minimize disturbance to their study organisms as well as increase efficiency and access remote areas. I conducted waterfowl distribution and behavioral surveys across 13 sites in southern Illinois during the non-breeding season (Oct-Feb) of 2020-2021. I also tested the efficacy of an affordable remote video surveillance systems compared to in-person waterfowl counts to monitor distribution and abundance of waterfowl. In person counts and proportion of behaviors were recorded every 5 minutes as well as before and after a given disturbance to 1) assess the impacts of specific recreational activities on waterfowl and 2) examine patterns in daily site usage, distribution and behavior in relation to daily numbers of disturbances events. Remote video surveillance derived counts were inaccurate and rarely detected birds when present (n=8 out of 5,754 total comparisons). When waterfowl were detected, counts often were less than the in-person counts (n=6). Major reasons for a lack of detection were limited camera resolution and field of view, weather and user error. Boating and lawn maintenance/construction had the greatest immediate impacts on waterfowl distribution and proportions of flight response. Exercise, wildlife observation, and fishing also had significant immediate impacts on waterfowl behavior and distribution but to a lesser extent. When looking at daily patterns, increasing the daily number of water-based disturbances led to lower rates of site usage by waterfowl and increased daily rates of evasive behaviors at the expense of feeding and resting. Increases in land-based disturbances (exercise, wildlife observation, and fishing) had no significant impact on daily patterns of local site usage and behaviors, suggesting birds are capable of acclimation to terrestrial recreation. Vehicular traffic had no effect on any immediate responses or daily patterns in site usage, distribution or behavior. Covariates such as cover type, urbanization, hunting season, distance from shore, and buffer size influenced how impactful non-consumptive recreation is on waterfowl. Some of the most significant findings were that larger buffer zones often minimized the immediate and additive impacts of terrestrial recreation, and birds were less likely to flee disturbance events during the hunting season. Although recreation overall does impact waterfowl, land managers can still provide opportunities for many terrestrial recreational activities, specifically by having trails and other areas of recreation further from waterfowl habitat. Partial and temporary closures to high impact activities like boating may be needed. Also, when studying waterfowl populations, remote video surveillance systems do not appear to be a viable alternative to in-person waterfowl monitoring; however, with more time for technology to improve, this method may need to be revisited.
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