Rapid Assessment of Forest Fragment Health in the Mid-Atlantic

Allen, Melanie
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University of Delaware
With the ever increasing trend in urbanization and the associated high level of human influence, there is a growing ecological interest in potential impacts such as; biodiversity loss, altered trophic interactions, increased disease incidence, and altered resource competition. Urban forest fragments provide some of the only remaining natural habitat for mammals in Northern Delaware, but little is known about mammalian biodiversity in these systems. Previous studies in forest systems have correlated the loss of small mammal biodiversity to a decrease in various ecosystem functions, and overall ecosystem health. Given the importance of ecosystem health in maintaining human services such as disease mitigation, pest reduction, and crop pollination, it is important to improve our knowledge of small mammal biodiversity in the region, and elucidate how that biodiversity is linked to forest health. In collaboration with the Forest Fragments in Managed Ecosystems (FRAME) project at the University of Delaware we measure the biodiversity of small mammals in local forest fragments, and compare these values to a Principal Components Analysis of previously collected forest health metrics, such as invasive plant distributions, snail densities, and calcium availability. Simple linear regression showed a significant increasing trend in the biodiversity of small mammals as forests approached mature stages and fewer invasive species were present. We used non-invasive track tubes to “capture” small mammal presence and in the course of our research improved upon previous designs to improve effectiveness in areas with high densities of raccoons (Procyon lotor). Our findings suggest that small mammal biodiversity is a potential indicator of forest health in the mid-Atlantic region. Our results also serve as a baseline for future research to better understand how ecosystem services are altered in the landscape.