A new research study done by Australian scientists has found that dog-walking in a natural area significantly reduces bird diversity and abundance.
Biologist Peter Banks reports in his study that birds perceive dogs as predators and avoid dog-walking areas.
â€œWe found in field studies that dog-walking in bushland causes a 35 percent reduction in bird diversity â€“ the number of species â€“ and a 41 percent reduction in abundance â€“ the number of individual birds in an area,â€ said Dr. Banks.
â€œThe effect occurs even in areas where dog-walking is common and where they are prohibited, indicating that birds donâ€™t become accustomed to continued disturbance by dogs.
â€œThis evidence clearly supports the long term prohibition of dog-walking from sensitive conservation areas,â€ Dr. Banks said.
The experiment was conducted at 90 woodland trails in the Sydney, Australia area. 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 dogsâ€™ 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 165 feet of an 820 feet trail. Monitoring began 20 seconds after the walker/dog-walker had set off and continued for 10 minutes.
Ground-dwellings birds appeared most affected: 50 percent of bird species observed in control sites were absent in dog-walked sites. The effect of dog-walking was most pronounced in the area immediately adjacent to the site where dogs were walked, according to Dr Banks.
â€œThere were 76 fewer birds within 30 feet of the trail when dog-walking occurred compared to control sites, suggesting birds were seeking refuge away from the immediate vicinity of threat.”
The particular sensitivity of ground-dwelling birds to dog-walking was of concern because it could lead to a â€œcascadeâ€ of behavioral changes that could further threaten these species, Dr. Banks stated.
He also said: “The key finding is that dog-walking certainly does have an impact on birds - and we were quite surprised by the magnitude of the impact.”
People walking on the trials also caused a disturbance to bird numbers, but on average it was less than half of the impact compared to dogs.
The team also found that two people walking together without a dog did not have any more impact on the birds than a single person without a dog. This suggested that the birds were responding to the dog’s presence.
The researchers are planning to see how long the birds will stay away for. Dr. Banks said if the birds are away even for a short time period, this could impact their nesting and feeding.
Dr. Banks also noted that even though all of the research was done in Australia, the results of the study could be applied to other areas around the world to conserve wildlife.
Dr. Banks said: “We hope that this information will be useful when people are weighing up decisions about access by people and by people with their dogs. For example, in places where there is a very high value conservation area, perhaps dogs really shouldn’t be allowed there; but there may be other areas where those conservation issues are not as great and maybe those are where dog-walking can be allowed.”
Source: BBC News