Using Citizen Science to Monitor Road-Kills

In this guest blog, Florian Heigl discusses his research that utilises citizen science to collect data on the impact of road-kills on wildlife, as well as the latest results from the project, recently published in BMC Ecology.

Worldwide many terrestrial vertebrate populations are declining due to several reasons. Among them are habitat loss, climate change, illegal hunting and roads. The influences of roads on animal biodiversity are manifold, ranging from various pollutions to the most direct impact of road-kill. Our new research article focuses on the effects of land-cover on road-killed amphibians and reptiles and the feasibility of a large scale citizen science approach to elucidate underlying patterns and interactions.

Citizen science is the active participation of laymen/amateurs in scientific projects. Currently a discussion is going on regarding the terminology in citizen science. What is ‘citizen science’, who is a ‘citizen’ and who is allowed to do ‘science’. However, the participation of amateurs in scientific projects has many benefits, including the collection of data on different objects covering a wide geographic area, and at the same time it raises awareness for a specific topic.

The overall goal of our citizen science project called Roadkill is to get an overview of numbers and patterns of road-killed vertebrates. In the last 3 years over 500 participants collected data of more than 5000 road-kills all over the world with a focus on Austria. The workload of the project is completely covered by volunteers (professional scientists and amateurs), ranging from website and app development to data collection, verification and publication.

European green toad killed on a road
User JGZ via roadkill.at

Since 2013 we regularly improved our method of data collection, published three peer reviewed articles, and did a lot of public relations in order to increase the number of project participants. Only then was it possible to cover the large and diverse geographic area of Austria and to increase data quantity. If you are interested in our work, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

The aim of our study was to examine the applicability of open-access remote sensing data for a large-scale citizen science approach to describe spatial patterns of road-killed amphibians and reptiles on tertiary roads. Using our citizen science app Roadkill we monitored road-kills of amphibians and reptiles along 97.5 km of tertiary roads covering agricultural, municipal and interurban roads as well as cycling paths in eastern Austria over two seasons. Surrounding landscape was assessed using open access land cover classes for the region (Coordination of Information on the Environment, CORINE). We also estimated the potential cost-efficiency of a large scale citizen science monitoring project.

We recorded 180 amphibian and 72 reptile road-kills comprising eight species mainly occurring on agricultural roads. We found a significant clustering of road-killed amphibians and reptiles, which is important information for authorities aiming to mitigate road-kills. Our analyses identified road-kills especially next to preferred habitats of green toads, common toads, and grass snakes. It was encouraging to see that land cover classes based on a rather coarse 500-m grid matched well with the most preferred habitats of the most abundant amphibian species in the study.

Remains of a road-killed European green lizard
User JGZ via roadkill.at

We concluded that citizen science would be an appropriate method to monitor road-kills of amphibians and reptiles on a regular basis and on a larger scale when investigating the influence of land cover.

Our plans for the future are to (I) continue the long-term citizen observatory system for road-killed vertebrates in Austria including the presence-only data collection and additionally establish a monitoring approach in coordination with already existing European systems, (II) enhance awareness-raising for the topic of road-killed animals among the general public and (III) develop a monitoring system involving various stakeholders aiming to reduce the number of road-killed animals in Austria.

 

For more on the benefits of citizen science in collecting ecological data, read this blog from last year by Poppy Lakeman Fraser – Citizen science: through the looking glass

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