Well-timed studies of population trends are vital for informed conservation management. Currently only 8% of eastern forests provide appropriate habitat for organisms requiring early successsional habitat. Early successional habitat is that transition when forests take over fields. This stage is ephemeral, lasting only a few years before forests return.
I study the American Woodcock, an indicator species for other early successional wildlife like Ruffed Grouse and Golden-winged Warbler that are severely declining due to significant habitat losses.
Due to the vast human impact on the planet, the natural mechanisms that created early successional habitats have been quashed. This requires lots of active management and collaboration across many parties to continually create and maintain shrubby-transitional habitat that many species require during migration and/or the breeding season.
When the males of migrating bird species return from a winter down south, the first thing they need to do is procure a territory and attract a mate. For a species, most habitats are identifiable as superior (source) or inferior (sink). However, in some cases an inferior site is erroneously identified as a source (ecological trap). When animals make bad decisions this can lead to population declines.
When biologists, conservation scientists, and land managers can properly identify and mitigate traps, we have the potential to stabilize populations declining due to traps and the loss of historic habitats.
Post-industrial landscapes may mitigate this issue by serving as alternative habitats. Post-industrial landscapes are sites that have been significantly altered through human use. These sites can be brownfields, superfund sites, landfills, or abandoned industrial sites. What my research sites all have in common is that they outwardly present potential habitat to birds seeking territory. My initial results indicate that woodcock cannot tell the difference between post-industrial and nonindustrial habitat.
This information will have considerable impact on urban land management because much of the east coast habitat is already developed and in order for animals to continue to exist in these systems they must be able to successfully adapt to them.
Please contact me if you are interested in learning more or becoming a supporter of Woodcock Watch NJ @woodcockwatchNJ or kefarley at rutgers dot edu.