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Evidence Suggests Golf Course Ecosystems can Succeed

Apr 10, 2014 05:00 PM EDT

The accepted logic is that golf courses - with their extreme demands on local water reserves and constant altering of the landscape - are ecological disasters. New research out of the University of Missouri suggests a viable habitat is possible under certain conditions, and enhanced management practices may, in fact, be beneficial to ecosystems within golf courses.

The study, announced in a news release by the school, focused on stream salamanders found on 10 different golf courses in the southern Appalachian region of western North Carolina.

"It's always been thought that course managers not only clear the land, but they add a lot of chemicals to the environment," said University of Missouri professor Ray Semlitsch. "In terms of maintaining the turf of the golf course, managers use herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, and fertilizers. We went into the research study thinking these things were going to be really toxic and really bad to the salamanders. What we found was quite the opposite. Golf courses can actually provide a wonderful habitat for salamanders and other organisms where they can survive and thrive."

Sampling focused on both larvae and adult salamanders in streams that crossed fairways within the golf courses. Water samples were also analyzed for chemicals and adverse substances that might be detrimental to the salamanders located on the courses.

"Golf courses have an environmental impact when they go in and clear an area," said Semlitsch. "However, because of improved management techniques, we're seeing no signs of chemical effects around these courses. It implies that the turf science industry is doing a great job at utilizing fairway design techniques, plants that reduce chemicals found in the soil, and other methods to ensure that biodiversity succeeds on the course."

The research indicates that maintaining the natural features of an area is the best way to retain a habitable ecosystem on and around golf courses.

"We have this image of pristine and highly manicured fairways such as the ones we see in Augusta or at Pebble Beach," Semlitsch said. "However, our research suggests a more natural course that includes streams with leaf litter, sticks and twigs that offer a natural habitat for different species is preferred. Turf and golf course managers are taking note of these practices, and it is making a real ecological difference."

The study was published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.

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