Wildlife movement, road ecology and impacts of wildlife perception
Every year, tens of thousands of people are injured in more than 1 million wildlife-vehicle collisions on roads. In addition to the loss of life, these collisions come with a tremendous monetary cost (over $1 billion per year) and influence wildlife community dynamics from genetic diversity to population size. While roads provide connectivity and freedom of movement to humans they serve to isolate, hamper movement of, and limit gene flow in wildlife. There is still much to be done to understand and mitigate the effects of roads on wildlife. We aim to add to the foundational knowledge of protecting fauna, and the habitats they support, in the face of serious challenges presented by an expanding road networks and climate change. Wildlife behavior is often underutilized, both in wildlife management in general and in road ecology in specific. We analyzed a ten-year dataset of puma radio-collar movements in concert with collected data on roadside light and noise to identify perceptual landscape features associated with frequent crossing areas; we also assessed the perceptual landscape at control locations.
Using radio-collar data and GIS techniques, we identified nearly 3,000 puma road crossing locations across the greater Santa Monica Mountains in Southern California. These crossing locations span a variety of habitats and road sizes (highways to local residential streets). In addition, we document light, noise, vegetation and topography present at road crossing locations and control sites. Because crossing structures can be expensive and difficult to build, providing tangible approaches to assessing the ideal crossing locations into the future will be beneficial to reducing wildlife mortality on roads. Further, minimizing characteristics of roads that repel wildlife from the roadway are critical for making crossing structures more attractive while keeping wildlife away from undesirable road areas.