Dr. Omar Attum and student Wade Lahue are co-authors of article on urban forest ecology

10th February 2021

By Steven Krolak

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–A new study on the impact of roads and trails on the ecology of urban forests has appeared in the journal, Urban Ecosystems.

Joining lead author Dr. Alaaeldin Soultan of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences are Dr. Omar Attum and his student, Wade Lahue, both of IU Southeast.

The study focuses on the relationship between landscape features–such as hiking trails and roads–and domestic species like dogs and cats on the occupancy of native mammals in urban forests.

The researchers used camera traps to document nocturnal animal activity in eight urban and suburban parks in the greater Louisville area, including Cherokee Park, Jefferson Memorial Forest, the Parklands of Floyd Forks, Waverly Park and Black Acre State Nature Preserve.

“Our analysis showed that the occupancy of the native mammals, deer, opossum, coyote, and raccoon, increased the further a site was away from a road, a hiking trail, and a forest edge, while non-native mammal (cat and dog) occupancy increased the closer a site was to a road, hiking trail, or a forest edge,” the authors wrote.

The design and use of these areas impact the distribution of wild species ranging from coyotes, deer and raccoons, in different ways, depending on their needs.

“Park management should consider the impact of roads, hiking trails, and
forest edge when designing parks and the enforcement of dog leash regulations for the conservation of large mammals in urban parks,” the authors conclude.

For Attum and Lahue, the value of the publication goes beyond the details or method, discussion and conclusion. It lies in the experience of faculty-student collaboration that drives research not only at IU Southeast, but in the academic world more generally.

The idea for this project goes back to a lab conducted by Attum in his Applied Conservation Biology class, which explored edge habitat, urban forests, habitat fragmentation and other related topics. The students examined the effects of free-roaming pets and edge habitat in Blackacre State Nature Preserve, using camera traps to study their subjects.

“The students were able to spend time in the field, analyze camera trap data and articulate the results as part of the lab work,” Attum said. “The results, although preliminary, were interesting, as we did see some trends that I thought were publishable if we had a larger sample size.”

Enter Lahue and fellow student Adam Hauss, who helped to increase sampling to different parks as part of a faculty-student working group.

In all, the team recorded 248 camera trap events resulting in 418 animal photographs.

Lahue conducted almost all of the field work and all of the data entry after the lab was completed as part of the class. He wrote the methods section of the story, and increased his knowledge of data analysis. His knowledge of the outdoors helped to identify those study spots, chosen from maps, that were in fact hard to reach, especially in the Jefferson Memorial Forest. He read through all of Attum’s manuscript drafts and filled in some missing information, according to Attum.

Lahue and other students like him are the reason that Attum always keeps a few ideas for research “on the back burner,” to serve as potential chances for student-faculty collaboration.

“Students are hungry for professional development,” Attum said. “The long-term research process like this, which continues even after they graduate, is a really great learning opportunity because they experience the whole process of science.”

Homepage photo: A deer is caught in a camera trap at night.

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