The back channels of islands on the Ohio River are assumed to provide habitat critical for several wildlife species. However, quantitative information on the wildlife value of back channels is needed by natural resource managers for the conservation of these forested islands and embayments in the face of increasing shoreline development and recreational boating. We compared the relative abundance of waterbirds, turtles, anurans, and riparian furbearing mammals during 2001 and 2002 in back and main channels of the Ohio River in West Virginia. Wood ducks (Aix sponsa), snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina), beavers (Castor canadensis), and muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) were more abundant in back than main channels. Spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) and American toads (Bufo americanus) occurred more frequently on back than main channels. These results provide quantitative evidence that back channels are important for several wildlife species. The narrowness of the back channels, the protection they provide from the main current of the river, and their ability to support vegetated shorelines and woody debris, are characteristics that appear to benefit these species. As a conservation measure for important riparian wildlife habitat, we suggest limiting building of piers and development of the shoreline in back channel areas.
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