Effects of Local Rural Land Use on Forest Habitats in Southern Ontario
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Forest ecosystems are under severe threat from resource exploitation, fragmentation and disturbance. While the rate of forest loss has slowed in recent years, it is still ongoing, and what remains is increasingly degraded as human development continues. This study investigates some effects of human rural land use on adjacent forest habitats, measured by examining soil function and biodiversity/species composition. Biodiversity was surveyed on four occasions for each taxonomic group over the summer, using quadrat and transect sampling for plants, sweep net and pan trap sampling for insects, and unlimited-distance point counts for birds. Soil function was assessed by determining the rate of decomposition of leaf litter of five major tree species, and by investigating soil chemical content. There was evidence of nutrient loading near agricultural sites, which exhibited very high phosphorus, potassium, calcium and nitrogen relative to control. The agricultural sites also had the highest degree of leaf litter mass loss. Agricultural sites contained the highest incidence of invasive species, and the lowest insect and plant diversity. The trailside site contained similar plant diversity to the roadside site, but exhibited the lowest bird diversity. Bird diversity was highest at the control site, but also high at agricultural sites. It would appear the agriculture has the greatest effects on plant and insect life, and roads and trails have the greatest impact on bird communities, largely because the primary sources of disturbance from agriculture are chemical in nature, while the disturbance from trails and roads are based on noise and direct disturbance. But these conclusions are based on a limited sample. Overall, land use has significant effects on adjacent ecosystems, presenting difficult questions for ecological restoration in rural and urban environments.