Par Frog

How about some newts on the back nine? Or a toad near the tee? With a few strokes of inspiration, golf courses could provide amphibians with some desperately needed habitat, a new study concludes.

“The average golf course occupies 150 acres of land and consists of approximately 16% non-turfgrass vegetation and 7% waterbodies,” Daniel Jackson and colleagues from the University of Guelph in Canada note in Landscape and Urban Planning. That means about 35 hectares of forest, naturalized areas, and ponds or streams – and potentially “valuable opportunities” to create amphibian habitat that might aid frog, toad and salamander populations suffering from habitat loss and other threats. Course managers and builders, however, currently don’t have a checklist on how to make 18 holes amphibian-ready, so the researchers decided to create one.

First, they studied what pond-breeding amphibians living in the Great Lake Regions of Canada and the United States needed to survive. Then, they interviewed golf course superintendents and managers to identify practical, workable strategies for creating habitat that wouldn’t detract from the game. Finally, developed design guidelines that “synthesize amphibian habitat requirements and golf course design principles to ensure the successful integration of amphibian habitat into golf course landscapes.”

Among the tips? Ponds must be free of predatory fish and American Bullfrogs, which often eat species that conservationists are trying to save. And it might help for them to have gradually sloping sides, which can help create desirable habitat. On land, the best places to locate “natural or environmentally sensitive areas” is in “out-of-play areas,” such behind tee boxes, behind greens, and the long spaces between the tees and the fairways. “Understanding how these environments affect players of varying skill levels will help ensure quality habitats are spatially arranged in suitable areas,” the authors note. In other words, they don’t want less-skilled players constantly ending up in the rough.

Golf courses could be “an ideal land use to aid conservation efforts,” especially in suburban areas, the authors conclude, especially given ”the game’s long-standing symbiotic relationship with nature, the industry’s desire to showcase their sensitivity towards the environment and wildlife,” and growing pressure to reduce maintenance costs. Maybe “Fore!” could become “Frog!”David Malakoff | August 16, 2011

Source: Jackson, D. B., et al. Design guidelines for integrating amphibian habitat into golf course landscapes. Landscape Urban Plan. (2011), doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2011.07.007