Throughout the forests of New England, rock walls are commonly found (broken down as they may be) as remnants of past farm boundaries. Forest flora and fauna soon recolonised the fields after many of the farms were abandoned for alternate land in the western United States. Today, this occurrence can be witnessed in University of Rhode Island’s very own backyard: North Woods. We worked with Dr. Brian Gerber and his graduate students Juliana Masseloux and Erin Wampole to develop an independent research project to characterize the wildlife in the area and to understand how they are using the remnant rock walls scattered in the forest.
We explored the following questions: what mammals are in North Woods despite its proximity to a potentially disturbing campus and are/how are these mammals using the rock walls that may fragment their habitat?
To dive into these questions, we deployed ten trail cameras throughout North Woods that pointed at either 1) a stretch of solid rock wall, or 2) a gap in a rock wall with what appeared to be a game trail running through it. We compared the mammal species seen on the cameras to determine which animals preferentially used solid parts of the rock walls or gaps in the walls. The cameras recorded still photos at the sites for about 4 weeks. We checked each camera weekly and tagged pictures with information such as species, group size, whether the pictures were of a stretch of a solid rock wall or a trail through a rock wall, etc. Rather than using the number of individuals in our analysis, we analyzed the number of groups. This means that if there were four deer in one picture, we counted that as one group.
Our pictures revealed what we had initially hypothesized: more animals were using gaps in the walls to travel through rather than using the solid walls to travel on top of or over.
These animals may be too heavy to travel on top of the wall, or perhaps it takes too much energy to do so.
The mammals that tended to travel on the top of rock walls were more agile. This method of transportation could be used because there is less resistance traveling on top of the wall than on the forest floor.
admires the wall
Despite the study area’s proximity to the URI campus, many typical New England forest species were detected: