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The effect of off-road vehicles on barrier beach invertebrates at Cape Cod and Fire Island National Seashores

January 1, 2009

The effects of off-road vehicles (ORVS) on invertebrates inhabiting seaweed debris (wrack) and supratidal sands on energetic beaches in the northeastern United States were studied at Cape Cod National Seashore, MA, and Fire Island, NY. Cores, wrack quadrats, and pitfall traps were used to sample four beaches, which all had vehicle-free sections in close proximity to ORV corridors, allowing for paired traffic/no-traffic samples at these sites. A manipulative experiment was also performed by directly driving over nylon-mesh bags filled with eelgrass (Zostera marina) wrack that had been colonized by beach invertebrates, then subjected to treatments of high-, low-, and no-traffic.

Pitfall trap samples had consistently higher overall invertebrate abundances in vehicle-free than in high-traffic zones on all four beaches. In contrast, both wrack quadrats (with intact wrack clumps) and the cores taken directly beneath them did not show consistent differences in overall invertebrate abundances in areas open and closed to vehicles. Overall abundance of wrack was lower on beaches with vehicle traffic. The talitrid amphipod Talorchestia longicornis and the lycosid spider Arctosa littoralis, both of which roam widely on the beach and burrow in supratidal bare sands as adults, were always less abundant in beach sections open to vehicle traffic, regardless of the sampling method used. Other invertebrates, such as oligochaetes (family Enchytraeidae) and Tethinid flies (Tethina parvula), both of which spend most of their lives within/beneath wrack detritus, showed either no response or a positive response to traffic disturbance. In the drive-over experiment, different species responded differently to traffic. The tenebrionid beetle Phaleria testacea (85% larvae) was significantly less abundant in disturbed wrack bags than in controls, while Tethina parvula (90% larvae) showed the reverse trend. Therefore, ORVs adversely affected beach invertebrates, both by killing or displacing some species, and by lowering wrack abundance, thus lowering overall abundance of wrack dwellers. However, for some interstitial detritivores vehicle disturbance apparently facilitated mechanical breakdown of wrack and increased observed abundances.

Our results suggest that alternating opening and closing of adjacent beaches to vehicle traffic allows recolonization of wrack clumps in newly-closed beaches from two sources: wrack-dwelling species from intact wrack clumps that remain on the disturbed beach and wide-ranging species from adjacent undisturbed beaches. Research on rapidity of recolonization from these sources is needed to optimize schedules of beach opening and closing for conservation of supratidal invertebrates.

Publication Year 2009
Title The effect of off-road vehicles on barrier beach invertebrates at Cape Cod and Fire Island National Seashores
Authors J. M. Kluft, Howard S. Ginsberg
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Series Title Technical Report
Series Number NPS/NER/NRTR--2009/138
Index ID 70178848
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center