Ecological Effects of Snowmachines
I am Tim Mullet, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Biology and Wildlife Department at UAF working under Falk Huettmann. My research focus is to determine how snowmachine activity affects wildlife, the soundscape, and vegetation in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. These findings are helpful for wildlife managers to make informed decisions when dealing with human disturbance and natural resources.
Winter months are difficult for moose. Harsh weather conditions, deep snow, and sparse food resources cause stress. Snowmachine activity can cause additional physiological stress, making it more difficult to cope with environmental conditions. To determine if snowmachine activity causes stress to moose, I analyze fecal pellets for stress hormones. I hypothesize that moose in areas of high snowmachine activity will have higher stress hormone levels than moose in areas of low snowmachine activity.
Studies have found that caribou tend to avoid snowmachine activity, while snowmachiners select areas of caribou habitat to recreate. In order to test whether these patterns are also true for moose on the Kenai, I took aerial photographs across the 2 million acres of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. I recorded the relative abundance of moose tracks and snowmachine tracks from each photograph. Identifying areas of moose and snowmachine activity will allow me to determine if they are evenly distributed, and if snowmachine activity is distributed in the same habitats as moose.
Soundscape ecology is a brand new field that was just introduced to the scientific community in 2011. A soundscape is all sounds that emanate throughout a landscape. With exponential growth in human population and motorized technology, soundscapes once dominated by biological sounds are being threatened by large and constant amounts of human- made noise. I use sound recorders distributed throughout the landscape and advanced spectrogram analysis software to map and model the distribution of human-made noise.
Natural snowpack provides an insulated and protective layer for vegetation, which can be altered by snowmachine compaction. I tested how snowmachine snow compaction affects wetland woody vegetation at varying snow depths by setting up a control and two treatment transects. I counted the number of living stems on 90 plants from three species during summer then ran snowmachines over treatment transects at > 50 cm and < 40 cm. If this experiment shows significant effects on woody vegetation it may indicate overreaching effects on wetland plant communities.
Thanks to a TAB grant to the Biology & Wildlife Department, the menu-driven statistical software package JMP is now available to UAF students, faculty, and staff through the OIT Downloads portal. Instructions for using the software can be found at the JMP Learning Library website and within the JMP program by choosing Help/Books/Discovering JMP.
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