Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Oil, gas development homogenizing core-forest bird communities

Date:
May 21, 2014
Source:
Penn State
Summary:
Conventional oil and gas development in northern Pennsylvania altered bird communities, and the current massive build-out of shale-gas infrastructure may accelerate these changes, according to researchers. The commonwealth's Northern Tier -- one of the largest blocks of Eastern deciduous forest in the entire Appalachian region -- is an important breeding area for neotropical migrant songbirds. These diminutive, insect-eating creatures, which breed in Pennsylvania and winter in Central and South America, contribute greatly to the health of forests.

Blackburnian warbler.
Credit: Image: Melanie C. Underwood

Conventional oil and gas development in northern Pennsylvania altered bird communities, and the current massive build-out of shale-gas infrastructure may accelerate these changes, according to researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. The commonwealth's Northern Tier -- one of the largest blocks of Eastern deciduous forest in the entire Appalachian region -- is an important breeding area for neotropical migrant songbirds. These diminutive, insect-eating creatures, which breed in Pennsylvania and winter in Central and South America, contribute greatly to the health of forests.

Related Articles


But they are being negatively affected in areas where there are high densities of shallow oil and gas wells, says Margaret Brittingham, professor of wildlife resources, who conducted a study of bird communities in the Allegheny National Forest. The national forest, on the extensively forested Allegheny Plateau in northwestern Pennsylvania, has more than 14,000 active oil and gas wells. Although the footprint of a shallow well is much smaller than the immense Marcellus Shale well pads now being built across the region, clusters of shallow wells, service roads, pads and pipelines create networks of disturbance that fragment forests, changing songbird communities, Brittingham explained.

"The cumulative effect of many small-scale disturbances within the forest is resulting in the homogenization of bird communities, with species that inhabit the interior forest, such as black-throated blue warblers, ovenbirds and Blackburnian warblers being pushed out, and species that prefer living in edge habitat and near people and development, such as robins, blue jays and mourning doves, moving in," she said.

"Biotic homogenization is a subtle process by which generalists replace specialists, with common and widespread species tending to become more abundant and habitat specialists declining. Our results revealed changes in avian guilds resulting from oil and gas development and suggest that a loss of community uniqueness is a consequence."

The study, done in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Northern Forest Research Station, took place over three years. Lead researcher Emily Thomas, at the time a graduate student advised by Brittingham, surveyed birds in 50-acre blocks selected for their varied amount of oil and gas development.

Thomas completed her master's degree in wildlife and fisheries science and is currently an instructor in the wildlife technology program at Penn State DuBois.

In a recently published issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management, the researchers documented the presence or absence of different songbird species in a range of landscapes, including undisturbed forest, low-density oil and gas development, and high-density development. They catalogued the abundance and diversity of songbirds in the study areas, which spanned two types of forest -- northern hardwood and oak.

"We wanted to find out what the well pads, roads, pipelines and other openings created by oil and gas development are doing to bird populations," said Brittingham. "We compared and contrasted the abundance and diversity of birds near well sites to bird communities in reference sites far away from disturbances in the big woods, and what we found was compelling." Forest interior species declined in proximity to the wells and at a rate that was roughly proportional to the intensity of gas development. Songbird species that prefer early successional habitat increased in abundance on the edge of gas development.

In addition, Brittingham noted, the generalist bird species that do better around people and tend to be common wherever there are people or development were more abundant near oil and gas development than within undisturbed forest -- potentially displacing the forest specialists.

The expansive development of Marcellus Shale gas, which began within the core forests of northcentral Pennsylvania around 2007, is increasing exponentially. Deep, horizontal shale gas wells differ substantially from shallow, conventional oil and gas wells in many ways.

Shale-gas well pads are immense but occur at a much lower density. Drillers install pad substrate of stone to support heavy equipment, and the drillers use a much greater quantity of water for hydrofracturing. That technology demands greatly increased levels of truck traffic on wider, more highly engineered roads. Brittingham and her students are currently studying the effects of shale-gas development on birds to determine how it affects avian communities.

"Birds are easy to study and survey to gauge the impacts of gas development because they are abundant, respond quickly to habitat change and are early indicators of problems," she said. "The bottom line is we are going to have resource extraction in this state, but the forests on top of it are providing clean water, clean air, climate regulation and a host of other ecological values.

"We need to maintain them as healthy, functioning ecosystems while extracting the gas. We hope our research will help to determine where thresholds of change occur and to identify areas where gas development should be avoided or minimal at best to protect these valuable ecological services that are provided free-of-charge to all of us."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Penn State. The original article was written by Jeff Mulhollem. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Emily H. Thomas, Margaret C. Brittingham, Scott H. Stoleson. Conventional oil and gas development alters forest songbird communities. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 2014; 78 (2): 293 DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.662

Cite This Page:

Penn State. "Oil, gas development homogenizing core-forest bird communities." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140521142432.htm>.
Penn State. (2014, May 21). Oil, gas development homogenizing core-forest bird communities. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140521142432.htm
Penn State. "Oil, gas development homogenizing core-forest bird communities." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140521142432.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) EU leaders achieve a show of unity by striking a compromise deal on carbon emissions. But David Cameron's bid to push back EU budget contributions gets a slap in the face as the European Commission demands an extra 2bn euros. David Pollard reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) A rare tornado ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and shattered windows Thursday afternoon in the southwest Washington city of Longview, but there were no reports of injuries. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Newsy (Oct. 24, 2014) Lava from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has accelerated as it travels toward a town called Pahoa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins