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Measuring Forest Ecosystem Sensitivity

Michael Culbertson

Humans have a well-known impact on the environment but the precise impact of human presence on an ecosystem is difficult to objectively measure and compare because there are many variables and it is difficult to provide an equivalent control site. Different harvesting methods may impact wild deer behavior (Williams, 2008). Human activities may impact daily activities of red fox, which are well adapted to human presence (Díaz-Ruiz et. al., 2016). A study of bushmeat species in Myanmar recommended: “camera trapping could be a first step to identify areas where human presence affects species occupancy and help local authorities to develop more fine-tuned conservation plans” (Cremonesi, 2021). A paper on the Svalbard arctic archipelago noted it was no longer “pristine” and: “Despite the large amount of data, the quantification of historical human presence remains biased and partial.” (Kruse, 2016). This project attempts to measure the impact of humans on forest plots on important ecological features.


Learning outcomes:

  • Impact of scientific field work using human presence on site.

  • Useful information for management of recreation areas, hunting, public parks, conservation, preservation, and forestry industry.

  • Measurement and comparison of ecological conditions with and without human presence.

  • Interesting questions warranting further study.


Site: 62 acres of forest land. Recently logged, with associated increase in wildlife including deer, coyote, fox, bobcat, birds, turkey, chipmunk, and possible fisher cat.


There will be two plots: 1) test plot with pre-determined and measured human presence monitored by GPS device, and 2) control plot with no human presence. They will be at least 400 square meters, will not be adjacent, and will be as equivalent as possible using Biogeoclimatic Ecosystem Classification (MacKenzie & Meidinger, 2017) and ecosystem geography (Bailey, 2009).


There will be no human presence for determing plots or marking boundaries in order to reduce interference. Instead, the study will rely on trail cameras with cellular connection, a high-flying drone, existing aerial photographs, maps (town property, wetlands, lidar, elevation), previous owner’s knowledge, and evaluation from a distance.

Measurement: soil conditions, wildlife populations, species composition.


This requires the use of careful procedures and updated technology. It will use data to produce and distribute useful information to relevant organizations in New England.


Further information on design, implementation, and discussion available upon request.


Bailey, R. G. (2009). Ecosystem Geography. Springer


Cremonesi, G., Bisi, F., Gaffi, L., Loprete, L., Zaw, T., Gagliardi, A., Wauters, L.A., Preatoni, D.G. and Martinoli, A. (2021), Why we went to the woods?: effects of human disturbance on species presence in a disturbed Myanmar forest ecosystem. Animal Conservation.


Díaz-Ruiz, F., Caro, J., Delibes-Mateos, M., Arroyo, B. and Ferreras, P. (2016), Drivers of red fox (Vulpes vulpes) daily activity: prey availability, human disturbance or habitat structure?. Journal of Zoology, 298(2), pp.128-138.


Kruse, F. (2016). Is Svalbard a pristine ecosystem? Reconstructing 420 years of human presence in an Arctic archipelago. Polar Record, 52(5), 518-534. doi:10.1017/S0032247416000309

MacKenzie, W. H., & Meidinger, D. V. (2017). The Biogeoclimatic Ecosystem Classification Approach: an ecological framework for vegetation classification. Phytocoenologia, 48(2), pp. 203-213.


Williams, S. C., DeNicola, A. J., & Ortega, I. M. (2008). Behavioral responses of white-tailed deer subjected to lethal management. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 86(12), 1358–1366.

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