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Roadkills: An Underemphasized Environmental Threat?

  When we think of environmental conservation, road impacts are the hindmost factors that rarely strike us in thinking about the alteration of biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics. As stated in a recent research article, roadkills eliminate as the most impactful consequences of roads.


  Roads have been the reflectors of human development, but they also come with a whopping cost to the environment and wildlife. The mortality of wildlife on roads has proven to be bleak, and roadkills risks have turned into a Sisyphean problem despite the various mitigation measures undertaken.


  Considering the dataset of vertebrate roadkills collected through citizen science presented by Global Biodiversity Information Facility stated 15198 reports with 17163 individual roadkilled animals from 2014-22. While this information stands relevant from the view of biodiversity decline, it is also crucial to draw on the urgency of raising this issue, where citizen scientists have stated that roadkills can lead to the extinction of a few species. 


   Road ecology elaborates on this environmental menace in terms of the adverse effect on the wildlife population levels. The road network globally has been progressively escalating over the past years; likewise, it has directly affected certain small terrestrial mammals and birds from going extinct. A study stated the evidence that the impact of roadkills on population persistence is more significant on species with greater mobility, more extensive home ranges, lower reproductive rates, or late maturity age.


  While it has been shown that roads directly affect animals and exceptionally disturb the ecosystem, it is notable that various species are subject to roadkills depending on their levels of site fidelity near the streets. The negative impact of roads is reflected in how animals are in more vicinity of human contact, which can disturb their behaviors substantially.


 The triggering factors for animals is often the lights and the noise of vehicles. A research article stated how roads play an even more significant role in interrupting wild habitats and become barriers by hindering the movement of animals and fragmenting breeding populations.  In a study, it was discovered that the habitat near roads performed the function of ecological traps where healthy individuals occupied the territories near or bisected by roads but eventually were road-killed given their regular crossings, leaving the domain vacant for subsequent occupation. Furthermore, animals were susceptible to dying in vehicle collisions while trying to reach resources (food, water, densities, etc.).


 Therefore, the life of wildlife close to the roads is undeniably vulnerable to decrease. Under this context, the necessity to address the  Roadless Rule adopted in 2001 by America needs to receive global attention. The motive of this rule is to protect the National Forest System lands (approximately 58 million acres), of which around 9 acres of southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is conserved, North America’s largest temperate rainforest, from timber harvesting and roads. Inadvertently being an anthropogenic rule, it keeps the industrial activities at bay from habitat alteration and loss, indigenous communities' relations with their lands are undisturbed, and the rate of roadkills is estimated to go down by 55 percent as per  population-levels based research data.


  It is to be noted what transport geographers have to say about the influence of the transport infrastructure and its interaction with the environment. The roads influence biotic and abiotic components around them, whereas roadkills are the direct effects of roads on biota and their relation to mortality. Recent ecological research discussed wildlife-vehicle conflict (WVC) that discussed the negative behavioral impact on animals living near the roads, such as avoidance of roads and crossing behavior. It has been proven that the behavioral influences have been specific to species and seasons and the traffic flow.


 A New York Times article explains how mitigation measures of road networking are partially beneficial for wild protection around the countryside or amidst the wilderness, which mentions the migration process of Wildebeest in Serengeti. According to the article, the process is disturbed by the simple fencing solution to control their road-crossing.  


 Likewise, scientists have demonstrated that biodiversity hotspots are vulnerable zones for roadkills which alarms the interference of human activity in the wilderness. The ecological effects of roads have only been brutal for wildlife in the past years under the drape of networking and development. The issue of roadkill derives from the more significant conflict of industrial progression against the environment. The dynamic of road ecology, therefore, bring wakefulness towards the role of humanity where roadkills, despite being a recurrent accidental act, do not reveal enough humaneness for the environment.


  Moreover, researchers have put forward phenomenon that states the disturbance created by human interference with wildlife due to vehicle collisions, with the access of roads was the increase in hunting pressure which became the “secondary effect” of roads. It mentioned deriving this phenomenon as “well understood in Amazonia where loggers access remote forests by paths, trails, and rudimentary logging roads and while logging in an area, trap and hunt game for local consumption or trade.” The extension of roads in such biodiversity hotspots is explicitly detrimental to the habitat and goes beyond the “road corridor” per se, affecting wildlife mortality.


  In such cases, while roads connect isolated places by linking city internals to inland and heritage areas predominantly for tourism, it also noted that roads themselves become a “habitat, corridor or conduit” for small species of animals and insects. At the same time, it becomes inevitable that the adaptability of the biota is natural. The design of the roads plays a determining role in settlement of various mammals. A study concluded that the “road verges of dirt and country roads for some small mammals constituted a ‘long, ribbon-like habitat’ along which they can move and disperse.”


 According to what environmental scientists have to say, the solution for the reduction of roadkills would ultimately be an outcome of “educational programs and stricter enforcement of traffic regulations, along with a genuine collection of road ecology data around the hotspots that will contingently aid in policymaking with the right evidence.” More specifically, extensive spatial research of roadkill suggested that “planning and design efforts could mitigate vehicle-wildlife collisions while taking into account the existing locations of roadkill, landscape patterns, animal distribution, and movement patterns and questions of land and road ownership.” 

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