Comparing hiking, mountain biking and horse riding impacts on vegetation and soils in Australia and the United States of America

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Pickering, CM
Hill, W
Newsome, D
Leung, YF
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2010
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Abstract

Hiking, horse riding and mountain biking are popular in protected areas in Australia and the United States of America. To help inform the often contentious deliberations about use of protected areas for these three types of activities, we review recreation ecology research in both countries. Many impacts on vegetation, soils and trails are similar for the three activities, although there can be differences in severity. Impacts include damage to existing trails, soil erosion, compaction and nutrification, changes in hydrology, trail widening, exposure of roots, rocks and bedrock. There can be damage to plants including reduction in vegetation height and biomass, changes in species composition, creation of informal trails and the spread of weeds and plant pathogens. Due to differences in evolutionary history, impacts on soil and vegetation can be greater in Australia than in the USA. There are specific social and biophysical impacts of horses such as those associated with manure and urine, grazing and the construction and use of tethering yards and fences. Mountain bike specific impacts include soil and vegetation damage from skidding and the construction of unauthorised trails, jumps, bridges and other trail technical features. There are gaps in the current research that should be filled by additional research: (1) on horse and mountain bike impacts to complement those on hiking. The methods used need to reflect patterns of actual usage and be suitable for robust statistical analysis; (2) that directly compares types and severity of impacts among activities; and (3) on the potential for each activity to contribute to the spread of weeds and plant pathogens. Additional research will assist managers and users of protected areas in understanding the relative impacts of these activities, and better ways to manage them. It may not quell the debates among users, managers and conservationists, but it will help put it on a more scientific footing.

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Journal of Environmental Management

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91

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3

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Environmental assessment and monitoring

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