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Golf courses – Good for wildlife?

04/11/2006 00:00:00 Research shows that golf courses can be wildlife sanctuaries, but change is needed in pond management

July 2007. Recent research has backed up what I have always felt, (combining 2 of my passions), that golf courses can be good for wildlife. During 2 recent rounds on my local course I saw deer, stoats, buzzards, green and greater spotted woodpeckers, skylarks, a kestrel and a slow worm. Yet the surrounding farmland would not provide anything like that variety. Between the fairways there are rough grass, woodland, ponds, streams and shrub/fern areas. Although some chemicals are used, it is a lot less than on local farmland, and there are some bird and bat boxes attached to trees. Even the fairways, although kept as short grass, are home to many insects. Compare that to almost any farmland.
Golf courses are designed for human recreation, but if managed properly, they can be important wildlife sanctuaries, a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher has found.

Most golf courses cover 1-150 acres, and approximately 70 percent of that land is not used for playing. There are more than 17,000 golf courses in the United States alone, so that leaves more than 1.7 Million acres of potential wildlife habitat. ‘These managed green spaces aren't surrogates for protected land and ecosystems, but they can include suitable habitat for species native to the area. Golf courses could act as nature sanctuaries if managed properly,’ said Ray Semlitsch, Curators' Professor of Biology in the MU College of Arts and Science.

Semlitsch and others outlined recommendations that would improve golf course habitats for amphibian populations. Their recommendations included buffering aquatic habitats from chemical runoff, surrounding wetland areas with 150 to 300 metres of forest or natural grassland, and creating a diversity of pond types that mimic natural wetlands.
© 2006 Wildlife Extra
Dry ponds good for amphibians
A recent study by Semlitsch built on these suggestions. It found that completely drying golf course ponds in the late summer or early fall actually benefit amphibian populations and biodiversity.

‘It's a hard concept for people to understand, but non-permanent wetlands are more natural than permanent wetlands. Most natural wetlands dry for some periods of time, and the species that live in them are well-adapted for this. The natural drying process benefits amphibians and it releases nutrients from the soil. Maintaining permanent ponds actually harms biodiversity,’ Semlitsch said.

In the study, the researchers used two types of ponds - control reference ponds and ponds located on golf courses - to monitor populations of American toads, southern leopard frogs and spotted salamanders. They found that the American toads, southern leopard frogs and spotted salamanders survived better in the golf course ponds than in the control ponds, probably because of a reduced number of insect predators. They also found that these species survived better in the absence of over wintered bullfrog tadpoles, which are common to permanent golf course ponds and act as unnatural predators and competitors.

Semlitsch said this shows that greater biodiversity can be achieved by eliminating bullfrog tadpoles. Because bullfrog cycles of metamorphosis take longer to complete (typically 12 months) than the cycles of other amphibians (typically one to four months), the bullfrog tadpoles have advantages in permanent ponds and can grow larger and more powerful, nudging out other species. By drying golf course ponds in the early fall, the tadpoles can be eliminated,

Research publishes
Semlitsch study will be published later this year in the journal Conservation Biology. It was supported by the United States Golf Association and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. For a copy of Semlitsch, Boone and Bodie's paper on ways to bolster amphibian communities on golf courses, see USGA Turfgrass and Environmental Research Online at

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