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The efficacy of small-scale conservation efforts, as assessed on Australian golf courses

Key Message

Small-scale landscape design and management actions that increase the size and structural complexity of vegetation on urban parks, gardens and golf courses can significantly enhance their capacity to provide refugial habitat for urban-avoiding birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians. If designed and managed appropriately, golf courses (and presumably other urban green-space areas) could perform a positive wildlife conservation role in degraded urban landscapes.

Source

Hodgkison, S., Hero, J.-M., & Warnken, J. (2007). The efficacy of small-scale conservation efforts, as assessed on Australian golf courses. Biological Conservation, 135(4), 576-586.

Purpose

Habitat remnants on urban green-space areas (i.e. parks, gardens and golf courses) sometimes provide refuge to urban-avoiding wildlife, leading some to suggest these areas may play a role in wildlife conservation if they are appropriately designed and managed. The high densities observed on some green-space areas may however be attributed to external influences. Localised efforts to enhance the habitat value of urban green-space areas may therefore have little more than a cosmetic effect. This study investigated environmental factors influencing bird, reptile, mammal and amphibian diversity on Australian golf courses to assess the efficacy of small-scale conservation efforts.

Small habitat remnants on private land and green-space areas (i.e. parks, gardens and golf courses) can potentially provide refuge to wildlife threatened by urbanization (Franklin, 1993; Linehan et al., 1995; Freeman, 1999; Blair, 2001; Fischer and Lindenmayer, 2002).

METHODOLOGY
Bird, reptile, mammal and amphibian diversity and environmental characteristics were surveyed on 20 suburban golf courses in south-east Queensland (Brisbane and the Gold Coast), Australia between 2001 and 2004. Sites were randomly selected from golf courses in south-east Queensland that have been established for at least 20 years and occur in flat, lowland areas with eucalypt vegetation (unburnt for at least 10 years).

2.1. Fauna surveys
Fauna surveys were conducted at 10 terrestrial and aquatic sub-sites on each golf course. Terrestrial sub-sites were randomly selected from all rough and out-of-play areas. Aquatic sub-sites were randomly selected from a list of on-site waterbodies.

All sites were surveyed for birds on six occasions between 2001 and 2003, in a range of seasons. Birds were surveyed on mornings without rainfall, within 3.5 h of dawn, conducting 5-min strip transects (100m· 30 m) at each subsite. Each site was surveyed for reptiles on six occasions (2 times a year, in Spring and Summer) between 2001 and 2003, searching a 1 ha area in each sub-site using 25-min active searches (i.e. overturning rocks, searching vertical substrates and raking leaf litter).

At each sub-site, 20-min nocturnal mammal surveys were conducted along a 100m· 30m transect in Summer 2002 and Spring 2003. Small ground mammals were surveyed using baited Elliott traps (33 · 10 · 9 cm) with an effort of 90 trap nights (30 traps: 3 per sub-site · 3 nights). Larger ground mammals were recorded opportunistically, as encountered during bird and reptile surveys. Each site was surveyed for frogs on three occasions between 2002 and 2003 following rainfall events. At each aquatic sub-site, 15-min spotlighting surveys were conducted along a 50m· 20m transect. To restrict variation due to weather, all sites were surveyed within 2 weeks in each sampling period.

Evidence

Abundance and species richness did not simply reflect local habitat qualities but were instead, partly determined by the nature of the surrounding landscape (i.e. the area of adjacent built land, native vegetation and the number of connecting streams). Vertebrate abundance and species richness were however, also associated with on-site habitat characteristics, increasing with the area of native vegetation (all vertebrates), foliage height diversity and native grass cover (birds), tree density, native grass cover and the number of hollows (mammals), woody debris, patch width and canopy cover (reptiles), waterbody heterogeneity and aquatic vegetation complexity (frogs). Localised conservation efforts on small land types can benefit urban-avoiding wildlife. Urban green-space areas can provide refuge to urban-avoiding vertebrates provided combined efforts are made at patch (management), local (design) and landscape (planning) scales.

DISCUSSION
Many landscape ecology studies have shown that wildlife abundance and species richness increases with the size, connectivity and structural complexity of habitat remnants (Forman and Godron, 1986; Collinge, 1996), thereby providing a framework for the design and management of conservation reserves. Importantly, this study has shown that many of the principles previously identified on relatively large landscape scales are also relevant to the ecological management of small urban land types. Small-scale landscape design and management actions that increase the size and structural complexity of vegetation on urban parks, gardens and golf courses can significantly enhance their capacity to provide refugial habitat for urban-avoiding birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians. The results, therefore, support recent North American studies that have shown that local land management actions can increase bird diversity on golf courses (Jones et al., 2005; LeClerc and Cristol, 2005; Merola-Zwartjes and DeLong, 2005) and demonstrate that this also applies to other less mobile vertebrate groups (reptiles, mammals and amphibians) that have received less research attention. If designed and managed appropriately, golf courses (and presumably other urban green-space areas) could perform a positive wildlife conservation role in degraded urban landscapes. Ecological criteria should therefore be considered in the design and management of urban golf courses, parks and gardens.

Additional Information

| C 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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