Properly designed golf course ponds might sustain wetland animals just as well as nature reserves and — in some cases — even better, concludes a new study recently published in the journal Ecological Application.
"Actually, golf courses have the potential to contribute to the conservation and support of the wetland fauna, particularly in urban settings. A greater involvement of ecologists in the design of golf courses could further bolster this potential," says lead author Johan Colding. He is researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and its partner the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics.

Better than their reputation
Golf courses have long been accused of using too much chemical pesticides and fertilizers to maintain their flawless green lawns. In this sense golf courses might not seem like a good place for amphibians and other wetland animals.

However, when Colding and his colleagues examined golf course ponds in the Stockholm area with those in ponds in nearby nature reserves and parks their hypothesis that golf course ponds would represent chemically stressed habitats of little value for wetland fauna was not supported.

A total of 71 macroinvertebrate species (large enough to be seen without a microscope) were recorded in the study, with no significant difference between golf course ponds and off course ponds at the species, genus, or family levels. In fact, the large white-faced darter dragonfly (Leucorrhinia pectoralis) and the red listed common blue damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) were found only in the ponds of the golf courses.

"The golf ponds often lack fish and are kept clear of water-clogging plants, this is perfect conditions for many endangered wetland animals," Colding says.

Good for urban areas
It is, however, important to bear in mind that the new study only suggests that golf courses might play an important role for species conservation in heavily urbanised areas - where green areas are diminishing and loss of aquatic habitat occurs. This doesn't imply that golf courses in general benefit wetland fauna. In other words, the ecological value of a golf course is primarily determined by what habitat it replaces.

"In recent years the game of golf has started to clean up its act. Moreover, there is actually more non-play area of potential ecological value on many golf courses than most people would expect. It is therefore essential that ecologists cooperate more closely with urban planners, ecosystem managers, and golf course designers. Once this is realised, then the sport of golf could increasingly become an asset in ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation," Colding concludes.

Colding J,  Lundberg J, Lundberg S and Andersson E. 2009. “Golf courses and wetland fauna". Ecological Applications 19(6): 1481—1491.


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