Shifting gears in road ecology: Why evolution matters
Perspectives from contemporary evolution have transformed modern conservation. Specifically, there is growing appreciation for the fact that evolutionary change can occur on the same time scale as environmental change. This knowledge allows us to make predictions about how anthropogenic changes influence the fitness of natural populations, leading to adaptation or even maladaptation. Though evolutionary thought is gaining traction in many fields of conservation, its use in road ecology lags behind. This is surprising because roads spur intense and diverse natural selection that likely causes adaptive and maladaptive evolution. Indeed, our limited knowledge of evolutionary effects of roads suggests that both outcomes occur. Whereas adaptation can facilitate population persistence, maladaptation compounds negative road effects, elevating extinction risk. Such opposing outcomes have the potential to dramatically alter population success and should be informative for conservation actions.
Here, we review some of the basic tenets of contemporary evolution and describe their relevance to road ecology. We briefly outline ways in which road ecologists can test for evolutionary outcomes, and discuss the interpretation of evolutionary patterns for conservation in roaded landscapes. Finally, we provide an overview of how future evolutionary road research will lead to increased predictive capacity in conservation.