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Conventional Oil and Gas Development Alters Songbird Communities

Photo of While deep-forest birds avoided gas-oil wells on the Allegheny National Forest, generalist species (such as the American robin whose nest is visible on this pump jack) increased with increasing well density. Scott Stoleson, USDA Forest ServiceWhile deep-forest birds avoided gas-oil wells on the Allegheny National Forest, generalist species (such as the American robin whose nest is visible on this pump jack) increased with increasing well density. Scott Stoleson, USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : A Forest Service scientist and partners found that as the density of oil and gas wells increased, the amount of core forest habitat decreased sharply. Forest interior species were less abundant at well sites than reference sites and showed a declining trend with increasing well density. The scientists examined the effects of conventional oil and gas development on forest habitat, the abundance of songbird species and guilds, species diversity, and community similarity within and between mixed hardwood and oak forest types at both individual wells and at the 25-hectare (61 acres) scale in forested blocks with no wells, low, or high well density.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Stoleson, Scott H.  
Research Location : Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2014
Highlight ID : 648

Summary

In areas of conventional oil and gas development, the amount of cleared area, length of roads and amount of edge all increased with increasing well density and amount of core forest declined. At high well densities, 85 percent of the study site remained forested, but the mean amount of core forest declined from 68 to 2 percent. Forest Service scientists found that ovenbird, Blackburnian warbler, and black-throated green warbler had lower abundance at well sites than at reference sites. Six species, including American robin, chestnut-sided warbler, and brown-headed cowbird, were more abundant at well sites than reference sites. Avian communities differed between northern hardwood and oak forest types at reference sites but became more similar when wells were present at both scales. The bird communities associated with northern hardwoods and oaks still retained their unique characteristics at low well densities but became similar at high well densities, suggesting a threshold somewhere between the low and high well density sites. Consequently, if well development is to occur in extensively forested landscapes, conventional oil and gas well development should be limited to a maximum of 20 wells per square kilometer to minimize impacts to forest birds.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Emily Thomas and Margaret Brittingham, The Pennsylvania State University

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