This may not become as a surprise for those of you who have already been deprived from junk food, cigarettes, booze, SUVs, Baltic cod, blue-finned tuna and other smallish pleasures of life: dog-walking in the wild might be the next item on the list of your no-nos. In a study published in Biology Letters, Australian researchers conducted an experiment to see how dog walking (in lead) influenced bird abundance and diversity. They found that dog-walking in Australian woodlands reduced bird diversity by 35% and abundance by 41%.
Did the dogs eat the birds? No – the observer surveyed the ‘treatment’ and ‘control’ (only human walker or no walker) trails right after (20s) after the dog (or human) had passed. Hence, the birds were just disturbed and/or silenced: they were still there, but apparently frightned by the passing predators. Yes, the walker alone had a similar effect, but not as large as the effect imposed by the dog.
There you go. Some earlier studies have shown that this type of disturbance can lead to population level impacts in some bird species. Therefore, the authors conclude that the result indicates that long-term prohibition of dog-walking in sensitive conservation areas may be in place.
Banks PB & JV Bryant 2007. Four-legged friend or foe? Dog walking displaces native birds from natural areas. Biology Letters 3:611-613.