Small Mammals and their Response to Disturbance

Red squirrels, chipmunks, ermine, and other small mammals are part of Acadia’s community of wildlife. Because small mammals are important prey for other animals, and help disperse seeds of trees and other plants, they are recognized as indicators of ecological change.

Encounters between these creatures and park visitors can be a source of delight for the humans but may be stressful for certain animals. If encounters are frequent enough, the animals may avoid areas with lots of people. Visitors also affect wildlife by damaging habitat.

Managers offset negative impacts of recreational use by restoring degraded areas (such as on the summit of Cadillac and other mountains), removing invasive species that can be spread via visitor shoes and clothing, and closing trails to protect animals such as peregrine falcons. Yet management activities, too, can be a source of disturbance to wildlife.

Not much is known about these interactions in Acadia.

Brittany Slabach, a lecturer of biology at Trinity University in Texas, has been studying how landscape ecology and park management affect biodiversity of small mammals. She has found that even with diverse habitats, small mammals tend to occur in isolated areas away from areas that are frequented by visitors and undergoing habitat restoration.

Using live traps and wildlife cameras, Slabach will conduct surveys of small mammals at sites in Acadia experiencing different types of disturbance. She will trap and release animals from summer through winter to capture seasonal variation.

“Ecological interactions are among the wonders that draw people to Acadia and to wildlife,” said Bik Wheeler, wildlife biologist with Acadia National Park. “To effectively manage wildlife in the park it is critical to understand both the physical presence of wildlife and ecological interactions, including those with humans.”