Virginia.gov

Study Sites and Stations

A study site is any location that a WildlifeMapper would use consistently to observe and record wildlife observations. Examples of study sites would be an individual's back yard, a local park, or the nearby school grounds. A station is a particular location within a study site that is visited to collect observations. Multiple stations can exist within one study site.

Habitats

Different species of wildlife make use of different habitats. Some species may be restricted to a single habitat (River Cooters are only found in rivers) while others may make use of multiple habitats, either daily or seasonally. American Crows, for example, can be observed in almost any terrestrial habitat, from forests and farm fields to suburban backyards.

WildlifeMappers record and report the habitat in which each species was observed by assigning it a unique three digit Habitat Code. While habitats can vary in size from a small puddle to an entire city or expansive forest, habitat codes refer to the overall primary habitat of the area in which the species was observed. The primary or dominant habitat would be the predominant habitat of the observation area. Within this predominant habitat, there may be one or more micro- or secondary habitats. For example, at the DGIF office in Richmond there is a small stream behind our building. The primary habitat is moderately developed industrial/business, and as such would be coded 122, because it is predominantly asphalt, buildings and concrete. The stream is the secondary habitat because it creates a microhabitat within the larger primary developed area. It is not mandatory to report the secondary habitat. The secondary habitat becomes important when a larger habitat has a distinct yet smaller habitat within it, such as the stream in our example or perhaps a farm pond in a large pasture.

In some circumstances, determining the dominant habitat may be difficult. It may be useful to consider how you would categorize your site if you were afforded a bird's-eye view of the area. While your backyard might be a wildlife haven, the view from a hundred feet up would reveal that it is the only yard that offers food and cover within an otherwise moderately developed residential area. Remember, WildlifeMapping is interested in the larger habitat framework. A list of the most commonly reported habitat codes as well as a condensed list of all the codes is included below.

Beginner Habitat Codes

This list of codes is based on the most reported codes for data submitted by WildlifeMappers. Please note that all habitat codes are three digits and each digit is significant because it gives a finer degree of detail about the habitat. A complete list of habitat Land Use/Land Cover codes, along with their definitions, is provided in the User's Guide and Code Manual that WildlifeMappers receive during their workshop training.

Site Recording

Let's look at how observations might be recorded at a single study site. The chosen study site is a neighborhood school. This site contains 3 distinct habitats, the moderately developed grounds immediately surrounding the school, a large grassland playing field, and a small pond surrounded by conifer trees. The immediate school grounds, as well as the overall neighborhood, receive habitat code 121 (moderately developed residential). If either the playing field or the pond were smaller than a football field in size, they would also be coded 121, as this would be the still be considered the primary or dominant habitat. If they were larger, they would each receive their own codes, 125 (moderately developed grass) and 924 (freshwater marsh surrounded by conifers) respectively. These same numbers would otherwise be assigned to each area as a secondary habitat code.

A group decides to monitor the school site by recording 15-minute observations at each of five stations. Stations 1 and 2 are located within the immediate school grounds, Stations 3 and 4 are within the grassy field and Station 5 is within the pond habitat. The following is an example of the data that might have been collected during one site visit:

Station 1 Station 2 Station 3 Station 4 Station 5
3 American crows 2 American crows 4 American crows 2 American crows 2 American crows
5 Starlings 3 Starlings 2 Starlings 1 Mourning dove 4 Blue jays
2 Dark-eyed juncos 2 Dark-eyed juncos 2 Mourning doves 5 Chickadees

How would these data be summarized? First, data is reported for each site by primary habitat. If all three habitats were large enough to be considered primary, then data would be summarized for each separately. Second, because birds are very mobile, it is likely that the same individuals could have been observed at more than one station. Therefore, data for stations within a habitat are NOT totaled or averaged, but rather register the largest number of individuals observed for each species. For the school grounds (Habitat 121) the data from the two stations would be recorded as follows:

Habitat 121
3 American crows
5 Starlings
2 Dark-eyed juncos

Similarly data for the grassland field would be recorded as:

Habitat 125
4 American crows
2 Starlings
2 Mourning doves

How would data be reported if either the grassland field or the pond habitats were too small to be considered as primary habitats? It would depend on whether or not the observer(s) wanted to specifically monitor the wildlife use of these specific habitats. If specific habitat use was not important, data from one or more secondary habitats could be combined in the same manner as the station data were. If it were desirable to track wildlife usage of individual habitats, data from each habitat would be reported separately, making sure to use the appropriate codes to describe secondary habitats. Since ponds and other wetland habitats are often home to a distinctive group of wildlife, it is recommended that secondary habitat codes always be used to keep those data separate.