Releasing of pheasants for shooting in the UK alters woodland invertebrate communities
The management of pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) in pens and their subsequent release within woodland for game shoots is widely practised in Britain. With the exception of ground flora and songbirds, the impacts on other taxa have not been well documented. We investigated the effects of pheasants on invertebrate abundance and community composition, using pitfall trapping. We compared release pens with control plots located in the same woods and in woods where no pheasant releasing had occurred for at least 25 years. Conditions for invertebrates within release pens were altered, with more annual plants and disturbance-tolerant perennials and a reduced leaf litter layer. No major differences in invertebrate abundance, or Carabidae or Staphylinidae richness, were found in spring at either the pen scale or the wood scale. However, pheasant release pens resulted in significant changes in the species composition of Carabidae, with shifts towards species typical of arable fields and grassland. Carabid species active in spring and those that are very large (> 17.0 mm) declined at pheasant release densities higher than 1000 birds/ha. Both effects are likely to be due to predation by pheasants at the peak of release in July-August, operating separately on larvae and adults respectively. There was an overall increase in the abundance of detritivores, including Diplopoda, Oniscoidea, Gastropoda (snails), at higher release densities. Mean release density in our study was 1489 ± 126 birds/ha (range 174-3409, n = 37 pens) and we suggest that detrimental effects on specialist woodland invertebrates would be minimized if releasing was conducted at the recommended density of 700 birds/ha.