Do you play disc-golf? Did you ever consider your environmental impact? Back when I lived in Wisconsin, one of my closest friends was the physical education teacher at the school I worked at. At some point during our friendship he invited me to play “disc-golf” with him one day after school.  At the time I had absolutely no clue what he was asking me to do and honestly thought he was making up words. Turns out, disc-golf is an emerging recreational activity that is popular in urban natural areas such as city parks.  Disc-golf is similar to traditional golf but instead of hitting a golf ball into a hole, you throw a frisbee into a chain basket that is raised above the ground.  Like traditional golf courses, disc-golf courses will contain obstacles such as water features, trees, shrubs, etc. In 2011 there were almost 3,000 disc golf courses in the USA (including at least one disc-golf course in Wisconsin!); up from 300 in the later 1980s.  I was actually pretty terrible at disc-golf the one time that I played and most of my throws resulted in the Frisbee being stuck in the trees.

Anyway, back to the research part of this post…emerging recreational activities, like disc-golf, are particularly challenging for managers to deal with. Managers often have to make decisions about how to manage new activities without much information about the social and ecological components of the activity. Therefore, emerging recreational activities can be really interesting topics of study in the field of recreation research. Back in 2013, Yu-Fai Leung and some of his graduate students decided to examine the social and ecological aspects of managing disc-golf activities. They were interested in answering three questions: (1) How does the public perceive disc-golf as a recreational activity? (2) Is there evidence that disc-golf has environmental impacts? and (3) How can this information be used to inform the management of disc-golf?

Tossing a shot into the bucket on the disc golf course at Black Butte Lake, California

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Social Media and Recreation Research Have you ever posted photos from a vacation to Flickr? Did you happen to geotag your photos? If so, then your vacation photos may have been part of a study that was recently published in Scientific Reports (an open access journal from the publishers of Nature). Recreation researchers have begun to explore the use of social media as a way to remotely gather information about recreation users.  Wood et al. data mined Flickr’s collection of geotagged photos to see if they could use social media resources to quantify use levels for nature-based tourism and recreation destinations across the world.


Where in the world is Ashley D’Antonio? (I don’t think I have ever geotagged a photo…)

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Science Communication and National Geographic

Sadly, it was not my research that was featured by National Geographic. As Dave recently found out, one of the benefits – or possibly curses depending on your perspective – of studying charismatic megafauna (particularly a species that is threatened by climate change) is that people actually pay attention to your research. A couple of weeks ago, while I was all excited about my lab’s work being published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environmental, Dave had to “one-up” me.

Dave’s Nightmare (from PhD Comics)

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The Life of Grad Students: Field Equipment Testing

My semester ended the first week of May. For many students, the end of a semester signals the beginning of summer and a time of relaxation.  For myself and Dave the end of the semester signals one of the busiest times of the year for both of us – the field season. Dave’s field work is a bit more intense than mine. As mentioned in previous posts, he spends his field seasons in a remote arctic field camp on the Hudson Bay studying various aspects of the ecosystem. Every year Dave leaves at the end of May and returns to Utah towards the end of August. Weekly, brief satellite phone calls are our only means of communication. Meanwhile, while Dave is trying to keep from getting eaten by a polar bear and/or swarms of mosquito, I spend chunks of my summer doing field work in whatever national park or protected area I have a project. This year, starting around July 1, I will be alternating my time between home in Logan and Grand Teton National Park.  I will be trying to not get eaten by a grizzly bear, gored by a moose, or driven insane by summer park visitors.

The lull between the end of the semester and the start of field work is usually taken up by days and days of field work preparations including ordering equipment, organizing gear, and testing equipment.  Most of the time this work is boring and a bit of a hassle but this year Dave made testing some of his field equipment a bit more fun. Dave will be taking more than few high quality game cameras into the field this summer to examine predator/prey interactions.  Having never used these cameras before, Dave brought a few home and decided a good way to familiarize himself with their use was to try them out on our cats!

Capturing Fern's inner demon at the food bowls.

Capturing Fern’s inner demon at the food bowls.

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What triggers visitors to leave the designated trail? It’s spring in Utah!  I can still see snow in the mountains but my yard is looking lush and green. I am enjoying the rain while I can; I know that once summer rolls around these steady rain storms will be few.  Despite my excitement about April showers and the warm weather, a recent article in Wildlife Biology has me thinking about winter.  During the winter, many wildlife species are under extreme stress compared to other times of the year. Food is scare and therefore animals are at a risk of not replenishing any extra energy expenditure that may be undertaken. As such, winter recreation – while not having a huge impact on soil and vegetation – can be a serious threat to wildlife species. Some species are known to be especially sensitive to recreation, especially off-trail use by recreationists.  Wildlife can adapt to the predictive nature of on-trail recreation but the sporadic and seemingly unpredictable nature of off-trail use can lead to serious ramifications for wildlife. Wildlife species often respond to recreationists like they do predators – flushing, releasing stress hormones, and overall just using energy that could have been saved for other activities (feeding, reproducing, growing, etc.).

Sign from Yellowstone National Park about winter, stress, and wildlife.

Sign from Yellowstone National Park about winter, stress, and wildlife.

Coppes and Braunisch were interested in seeing if off-trail use by winter recreationists was predictable.  Could they determine where human-wildlife conflicts might occur in a protected area in Germany using spatial modeling?

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Research activities as a means of protection?

My research focuses on the ecological consequences of tourism and visitor use to parks and protected areas. The activities that I am interested in are all legal uses of parks and protected areas and the negative consequences of tourism that concern me are those that are the result of carelessness or ignorance.  However, the integrity of parks and protected areas – both in the United States  and abroad – are threatened by illegal actions as well. Poaching, logging, and illegal encroachment are of great concern for protected areas around the world.  While researching issues of national security on federal lands, I came across an interesting opinion piece published this year (online only at the time of writing this post) in Trends in Ecology and Evolution by  William Laurance; a professor out of Australia with a research focus on conservation biology. In the piece, Laurance speculates that the mere action of doing research in protected areas may have the added benefit of safeguarding the area.

Evidence of illegal logging activities in Mt. Cagua protected area

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Recreation Ecology Around the World: Part 1 – East Asia Yep, I have not posted in over a month. Whoops!  I feel like this is my busiest semester to date and what little free time I have has been devoted to trying to finish the A Song of Ice and Fire series or knitting.  Blogging has taken a back seat to research and other hobbies. However, recently a bunch of review papers have appeared in the literature summarizing the state of recreation ecology in various countries around the world (East Asia, Canada, Australia, and the United States).  As I work through reading these papers, I figured I could take write a series of blog posts that can serve as a tour of the world through the lens of a recreation ecologist (hopefully it will take less than 80 days…).

First stop – East Asia

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