More Animals Found in Urban Forests

By Roland Kays
Albany, NY (February 7, 2011)- The numbers are in: We found higher diversity and overall higher activity of animals in our camera traps set in urban forests than in those out in the wild areas.


The objective of this study was to compare the potential prey communities that fishers might encounter in these two environments. Could fishers be lured into these areas by abundant prey? Now we know that, yes, this could be part of the explanation (i.e. hypothesis not rejected). This part of our project was headed up by Joseph Chase, a student from Tech Valley High School. He came to us offering one month of work to meet his school’s requirement of “project-based learning.”
This was good timing, as we were just about to start our camera trap survey. We put him on this project, and he did a great job, not only setting and collecting cameras at the various GPS points we gave him, but also entering the data into our database and doing some preliminary comparisons. I love camera traps because they are easy to use, and it is fun to look at the results. Lock a camera to a tree, write down the GPS coordinates, and walk away for a few weeks. Come back and you get to look at new clips of animals running around. It is rare to take a walk in the woods and actually see a mammal like a fox, but put a camera trap out and you’ll get them.
As a mammalogist, I’ve always been jealous of the ability of bird-watchers to casually go out and watch their creatures of interest. But with camera traps I can. In a remote sort of way, camera traps are like binoculars for mammal lovers. Joseph’s survey found 14 species in suburban forests (including humans and dogs) but only six in the wild forests. That’s not to say that there were no squirrels or turkeys out in the wild forest, but that they weren’t common enough (or active enough) to have walked in front of one of our cameras during our survey. Even those species that were at both sites were more common in the urban forests, including the red fox and coyote, and especially the deer, which were roughly six times as common in the urban site compared with the wild area.
We can’t peg these detection rates to actual density estimates (animals per square kilometer), but because we randomized our camera sites and didn’t use bait, we can use them as a measure of relative abundance. This has been a very snowy winter in Albany, and the overall detection rates for these cameras have been much lower than those from some test cameras in the fall. I’m sure this harsh weather has decreased animal activity at both sites. Answering one question in science often leads you to ask new ones.
Now I’m wondering why the animal communities in these two areas are so different, and how much has to do with the snow. I wonder how the animal activity at these two areas compares in the summer. Maybe I can convince Joseph to come back for a summer project!
Related Resource:
The New York Times- More Animals Found in Urban Forests