THE EFFECTS OF OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT ON FOREST FRAGMENTATION AND BREEDING BIRD POPULATIONS IN THE ALLEGHENY NATIONAL FOREST

Open Access
Author:
McGunegle, Margaret Lauren
Graduate Program:
Geography
Degree:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
None
Committee Members:
  • Douglas Alan Miller, Thesis Advisor
Keywords:
  • forest fragmentation
  • oil and gas development
  • avian habitat guilds
  • Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas
  • Allegheny National Forest
Abstract:
Privately owned subsurface mineral rights underlie 93% of the Allegheny National Forest (ANF) and create challenges for wildlife management. The construction of well pads and road networks for the oil and gas industry fragments the forest landscape and dissects wildlife habitat. Bird species that nest, breed, and forage in a specific area are indicators of the habitat’s health and biodiversity. This study examined how the oil and gas industry affected forest fragmentation in the ANF and impacted the breeding bird population from three specific habitat response guilds: edge forest, forest generalist, and forest interior obligate. The research focused on oil and gas development, but other causes of fragmentation such as road expansion were also examined. Geospatial technology was applied to aerial imagery to measure landscape fragmentation from four time periods over the last 50 years. The landscape metrics indicated an increase in fragmentation since the late 1950s and 60s. Annual rates of change were calculated for each metric and nearly all trends also indicated an increase of fragmentation. Regression analysis was used to examine the relationship between oil and gas development and landscape fragmentation. The analysis indicated that oil and gas development could explain 42.3% of the variability of total edge in the study area. Multiple regression analysis was used to determine how much variability could be explained with a combination of fragmentation drivers. The results were able to predict at least 75% of the variability of total edge, core forest, number of patches, edge forest, and number of core patches. The landscape metrics and the annual rates of change were compared with population demographics of the habitat guilds. The mini-routes from the 2nd Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas provided data for the avian habitat guilds. The mini-routes had to be separated into full and partial routes resulting in two small sample sizes that limited the statistical significance. However, the full mini-routes proved to be much better indicators of avian response with both the landscape metrics and the annual rates of change. Regression analysis indicated that there were not any significant relationships between the avian guilds and oil and gas development. However, some of the other landscape metrics did suggest connections between fragmentation and avian response. Forest generalist appeared to be the guild most affected by current measures of fragmentation, and edge forest appeared to be the guild most affected by annual rates of change. Overall, the guilds seemed to be more affected by annual rates of fragmentation than by current measures of fragmentation, but more testing is needed with a larger sample size of the full mini-routes. The Allegheny National Forest offered a unique opportunity to study the effects of oil and gas development on fragmentation and breeding birds. Understanding the long term effects of fragmentation will help to inform wildlife management practices and contribute to the development of environmentally sensitive policies for natural resource extraction.