Anthropocene's effect on habitat choice in early successional species: a preliminary study on the American Woodcock in northern New Jersey

2017-08-03T02:38:45Z (GMT) by Kathleen E. Farley

Highly populated areas face the complementary effects of habitat loss and degradation leading to the potential for animals to select inferior habitat. Habitat selection tenets (e.g. Ideal Free Distribution) assume animals are well-informed regarding habitat quality before they establish territory. However, for migratory animals this assumption is unlikely to be upheld. In regions of industrial sprawl, animals are faced with identifying quality territory where former cues may no longer provide useful information. Post-industrial sites (old rail yards, landfills, former industrial complexes, superfund sites etc.) visually appear similar to early successional habitat, but these altered habitats may contain pollutants, altered hydrological regimes, delayed succession, and modified floral and fauna communities. These landscapes can exist as significant sources of available habitat within a region and may lead to a shift in habitat usage where animals equally or preferentially select post-industrial sites over non-industrial sites. To test this, during spring 2016 I monitored the activity of American Woodcock (Scolopax minor), an indicator species for the early successional faunal community, to determine to what extent they use post-industrial habitat. We conducted crepuscular courtship surveys from mid-March through early May across ~30 sites in northern New Jersey that were categorized as either post-industrial or non-industrial. Presence of woodcock, including numbers of actively displaying males, and frequency of courtship flights were determined across the region. Preliminary results suggest the woodcock do not discern differences between post-industrial and non-industrial habitat for courtship displays.