New research showing that dog-walking in bushland significantly reduces bird diversity and abundance will lend support to bans against the practice in sensitive bushland and conservation areas.
Until now, arguments and debate about the ecological impacts of dog-walking have remained subjective and unresolved because experimental evidence has been lacking.
But the first clear evidence that birds perceive dogs as predators and avoid dog-walking areas is published today in Biology Letters, reporting research by UNSW biologist Peter Banks.
We found in field studies that dog-walking in bushland causes a 35 percent reduction in bird diversity the number of species and a 41 percent reduction in abundance the number of individual birds in an area, says Dr Banks.
The effect occurs even in areas where dog-walking is common and where they are prohibited, indicating that birds dont become accustomed to continued disturbance by dogs.
This evidence clearly supports the long term prohibition of dog-walking from sensitive conservation areas, Banks says.
The revelation has immediate implications for popular recreation activities such as bird-watching and eco-tourism, where visitor satisfaction has a strong relationship to the number of species seen.
The experiment was conducted at 90 sites in the Hornsby-Berowra-Cowan regions, 35kms north of Sydney, Australia. The area was chosen because it contains remnants of bushland with trails that are either frequently dog-walked or where dog-walking is prohibited.
The experiment used three conditions to study dogs impact on birds: (1) a person walking a dog on a lead on a trail; (2) a person walking alone on a trail; (3) a control condition with no dog walking or humans.
Observers monitored all native birds seen or heard within 50 metres of a 250-metre trail. Monitoring commenced 20 seconds after the walker/dog-walker had set off and continued for 10 min
|Contact: Dr. Peter Banks|
University of New South Wales