The effects of released pheasants on invertebrate populations in and around woodland release sites
The release of gamebirds for recreational shooting exerts a series of effects on the ecosystems into which they are placed. Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) are omnivorous and eat invertebrates, especially when young or, if females, when breeding. Consequently, the release of large numbers of pheasants into woodland release pens may affect local invertebrate populations. Previous studies have reported mixed evidence. We conducted pitfall trapping at 13 sites (49 pens) in central England over 2 years (totaling 65 pen measures), comprising three surveys annually, immediately prior to releases in mid-summer, 4 weeks later when most birds were still in the pens, and another 5 weeks later when most birds had dispersed. We compared traps inside and 25 m outside pens in the same wood. We considered release densities and whether the birds had prior experience of eating invertebrates. While accounting for overall seasonal declines in invertebrates trapped, we detected changes for total invertebrate biomass and total counts indicative of released pheasants causing local decreases inside pens, either directly by predation or indirectly by modifying vegetation. There were also relative decreases outside pens when the pheasants start to disperse, suggesting that the released pheasants may be affecting invertebrates in those nearby areas or that their earlier effects inside the pen, modifying vegetation or increasing invertebrate activity, increased the relative susceptibility of invertebrates there to trapping. However, these effects were not seen for specific invertebrate groups believed to be especially susceptible to pheasants. For slugs and detritivores, we detected small population increases inside pens. Across the study period, decreases for most measures were greater outside pens than inside them. We conclude that any effects pheasants have on invertebrate communities at release sites in woodlands are complex and that long-term and taxon-specific studies should be considered to understand the local net ecological effects of gamebird releases on invertebrates.