Significant progress has been made in collecting baseline data on 11 different species of small mammals, as well as charismatic species such as black bear (Ursus americanus); beaver (Castor canadensis); and species of porcupine.
An important discovery has been the rise in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) populations as a result of warmer climate and reduced snow cover. White-tailed deer compete with moose (Alces americanus) for food resources in the area. They also carry an infectious nematode worm, which can be fatal to moose. Moose are now listed as threatened locally, although globally they are listed as Least Concern (IUCN Red List). Censuses suggest that the average deer density in the area is 17-fold higher than official figures from 2003, which has important management implications in an area where white-tailed deer numbers have reached a point where the species cannot stably co-exist with moose. Deer surveys also indicate that the white-tailed deer prefer human-modified landscapes such as parking areas and picnic sites.
Recent research on badgers and beavers has already highlighted the detrimental effects of short-term climatic variation on the survival and fecundity (ability to reproduce) of much larger and more resilient mammal species.
2010 data advanced this project’s investigation into the effects of climate variability on small mammal populations. Erratic spring time weather appears to have severely diminished the over-wintering deer mice and red-backed vole populations which lost their first litters and over spent energy when frost returned that spring. Jumping mice, however, are hibernators and managed to avoid the effects of the spring frost as observed on deer mice and red backed voles. While normally a rare species, they were the predominant small mammal species throughout most of the field season.
Snow shoe hare population studies have revealed that the hares exist in much greater numbers at the Cook’s Lake site versus the East Port site. This difference is likely due to the refuge the hares find in the crevices between the site’s glacial boulders. In summer of 2010 there was a significant decrease in the snow hare population at East Port and the project is working to discover the reasons behind the population crash.
The project began a new line of study in 2010 focusing on the effects of road kills on different mammal populations. The preliminary results suggest that the species suffering the most road casualties are those that have evolved to stand in the face of danger as opposed to those that have evolved to run. The most common victims are raccoons and porcupines as well as skunks, minks, otter, and beavers.
In addition to collecting long-term species-specific monitoring data, the project also aims to evaluate the use of amateur volunteers as a tool in conservation research. For example, the project is evaluating the best introduction to and instruction in using camera trapping as a way to census some of the more elusive mammals.
Earthwatch volunteers have assisted in creating detailed geographic maps that show environmental features and habitat types and newly mapped paths have been added to the existing trail networks at the project sites.
Macdonald, D.W., Newman, C., Buesching, C.D. & Nouvellet, P.M. in press. Direct and indirect climatic
impacts on mammalian population dynamics: Evidence from a Eurasian badger (Meles meles) population. Journal of Mammalogy
Buesching, C.D. & Macdonald, D.W. (2008) The Mammals of Wytham Woods. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK
C.D. Buesching, J.R. Clarke, S.A. Ellwood, C. King, C. Newman & D.W. Macdonald (2010): "Chapter 10: The Mammals of Wytham Woods" in Wytham Woods (ed. by P. Savill, C. Perrins, C. Kirby & N. Fisher). Oxford University Press, Oxford.