Scientists: Use Golf Courses as Wildlife Sanctuaries

Golf courses could serve as important wildlife sanctuaries, scientists say.

"There are more than 17,000 golf courses in the United States, and approximately 70 percent of that land is not used for playing," said Ray Semlitsch, a biologist at University of Missouri-Columbia. "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."

Semlitsch, along with Michelle Boone, an assistant professor at Miami University in Ohio and former University of Missouri graduate student, and J. Russell Bodie, senior scientist for Audubon International, have studied how best to carry the idea out. They suggest buffering aquatic habitats from chemical runoff, surrounding wetland areas with a strip of forest or natural grassland and creating a diversity of pond types that mimic natural wetlands.

Completely drying golf course ponds in the late summer or early fall would benefit amphibian populations and biodiversity, the researchers found in a study that will be published later this year in the journal Conservation Biology.

"Non-permanent wetlands are more natural than permanent wetlands," Semlitsch said. "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."

The research was supported by the United States Golf Association and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Live Science Staff
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