Murray State University

Poster Title

Impacts of Habitat Degradation and Interspecific Interactions on Riparian Animal Populations

Institution

Murray State University

Abstract

Habitat degradation is a known driver of global biodiversity losses and is common in streams of the western U.S. Understanding the impacts of such degradation on biodiversity is an important goal, as stream and riparian zones are often keystone resources and provide important corridors between habitats. Kimball Creek, a 3rd-order stream located near De Beque Colorado at the High Lonesome Ranch, has been degraded by decades of poor management, including overgrazing by cattle and eradication of beaver. The upper reaches are less degraded than those further downstream. In an effort to provide baseline biodiversity data to evaluate a planned restoration of the stream, and to test the hypothesis that degradation (location and cattle presence) affects large mammal populations, we monitored camera traps during 2011-13. Cameras were placed along the stream corridor based on obvious animal crossings and natural landscape funnels. Large mammals, including native ungulates (mule deer and elk), carnivores (bear, cougar, coyote), and cattle, were captured in ~15% of >40,000 digital photographs. We are currently correlating the richness, relative abundance, and time budgets of these species with the presence of predators, cattle, and location (= degradation). Our preliminary observations suggest that cattle usage of the riparian zone negatively affects the diversity, abundance, and activity of native large mammals, and cattle presence is a more important factor affecting native large mammal biodiversity than stream degradation per se. This implies that successful restoration of stream environments may require careful management of historically and economically important ranching operations.

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Impacts of Habitat Degradation and Interspecific Interactions on Riparian Animal Populations

Habitat degradation is a known driver of global biodiversity losses and is common in streams of the western U.S. Understanding the impacts of such degradation on biodiversity is an important goal, as stream and riparian zones are often keystone resources and provide important corridors between habitats. Kimball Creek, a 3rd-order stream located near De Beque Colorado at the High Lonesome Ranch, has been degraded by decades of poor management, including overgrazing by cattle and eradication of beaver. The upper reaches are less degraded than those further downstream. In an effort to provide baseline biodiversity data to evaluate a planned restoration of the stream, and to test the hypothesis that degradation (location and cattle presence) affects large mammal populations, we monitored camera traps during 2011-13. Cameras were placed along the stream corridor based on obvious animal crossings and natural landscape funnels. Large mammals, including native ungulates (mule deer and elk), carnivores (bear, cougar, coyote), and cattle, were captured in ~15% of >40,000 digital photographs. We are currently correlating the richness, relative abundance, and time budgets of these species with the presence of predators, cattle, and location (= degradation). Our preliminary observations suggest that cattle usage of the riparian zone negatively affects the diversity, abundance, and activity of native large mammals, and cattle presence is a more important factor affecting native large mammal biodiversity than stream degradation per se. This implies that successful restoration of stream environments may require careful management of historically and economically important ranching operations.