The Effect of Human Disturbance on Habitat Use of Mesopredators in a County Park in South Central Pennsylvania
Student Researcher: Erika Scheppelmann
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Bridgette Hagerty
Presented at the Annual Conference of Wildlife Society in 2019
Awarded Undergraduate Research Grant by the YCP Center for Academic Innovation
Abstract: Understanding wildlife and urban relationships is necessary as human development encroaches on wild spaces. Human disturbance can alter a species’ behavior and physiology, leading to loss in biodiversity, decline in abundance, and in fitness. Mesopredators are important components of wildlife communities through their contribution to prey species population control. We used non-invasive camera trapping methods to examine mesopredator habitat use in a local county park, Nixon County Park near Jacobus, PA. Park naturalists have reported seeing raccoon (Procyon lotor), coyote (Canis latrans), and red fox (Vulpes vulpes), within park boundaries, but limited funds are available for research. Our goal was to quantify how these mesopredators use the available habitat in the park and investigate the effect of human influence; thus, we strategically placed 12 wildlife cameras in hardwood mixed forests, open fields, and wetlands. Additionally, we paired locations with low and high human activity based on distance to trails to evaluate human impacts on each species. We then analyzed images within 30-minute trap events from February-December 2019 and compared the capture success rate (trap events per 76 nights) between locations 20m and 60-80m from trails. Activity for the mesopredators was lower in areas in close proximity to hiking trails throughout the study; they also displayed higher activity at night than during the day in all habitat types. We recommend that park naturalists continue to improve the habitat with less human disturbance (e.g., invasive species removal) and educate the public about trail etiquette to facilitate wildlife’s avoidance of human disturbance.