Impacts of human disturbance on capercaillie Tetrao urogallus distribution and demography in Scottish woodland
Leisure activities in fragmented western European forests are thought to threaten local populations of capercaillie Tetrao urogallus. We studied impacts of human disturbance on capercaillie in three Scottish woods by documenting the distribution of their droppings in relation to woodland tracks and entrances, surrogates for human activity. Droppings were sparser within 300-800 m of entrances and 70-235 m of tracks, depending on track use and habitat. Some 75% of each wood lay within 130 m of a track. In the most disturbed wood, droppings were most abundant in the centres of larger patches of trackless boggy ground, which acted as refuges. The reproductive rate (chicks reared per hen) at our three study areas was no less than in other, less disturbed parts of the same valley. The ratio of full-grown hens to cocks, however, was unusually low in the two most disturbed woods. Disturbance reduces the birds’ living space, possibly affecting hens more than cocks. It might therefore impact metapopulation dynamics and contribute to genetic impoverishment in small populations. Ensuring that people and dogs keep to tracks, closing tracks and creating refuges should mitigate such effects.