Image Credit: Pablo Medrano
January 26, 2023
When and why did you start working on road ecology?
My work in road ecology began in 2014 with my master’s thesis and the magnificent direction of Santiago Espinosa, who guided me towards this field. This subject was totally unknown in Ecuador, so we chose an area of the Amazon crossed by roads and adjacent to protected areas, and we systematically sampled it for six months. We found many wild species affected by road mortality, several of which were rare, or even undescribed. This work was a great impulse to know that research on this topic was just beginning and that there was much more to do and learn about. Years later I was lucky to have Manuela González Suárez as PhD thesis director. Their support and brilliant work in directing my thesis, together with the great support of Clara Grilo in co- supervision, have been essential factors in broadening my scientific perspective on this topic.
What studies have you done on road ecology?
The first study was my master’s thesis, where we analyzed how certain landscape attributes can be used to explain spatial patterns of road fatalities. As far as I know, this thesis was the first systematic work on highway ecology in continental Ecuador. Later we published it: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/btp.12938
For another work, with a colleague, based on road kill fauna, we expanded the range of distribution of six species of snakes, whose natural history is practically unknown. This highlights the importance of road studies to increase knowledge about fauna. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23766808.2021.2010469
A very important study was to develop models based on life traits and habitat preferences to estimate roadkill rates of birds and mammals in Latin America and the Caribbean. Additionally, we identified the species and roads in this region with the highest mortality.
Using results from previous work, we prepared a new investigation, in which, by combining road kill rates, road data, species conservation status, and study availability, we identified priority areas and species for research and protection in Latin America and the Caribbean. An important point was the identification of areas where building new roads would be fatal for birds and mammals. Preprint available: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.11.01.514670v1
For the following work, we sampled 240 km of roads in the Ecuadorian Amazon and by analyzing 1125 records of roadkill collected in the field, we identified the characteristics of the landscape and roads that promote greater mortality of wildlife. Preprint available: https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-2156016/v1
The most recent work was an evaluation of fauna mortality at the level of Ecuador, where by compiling data from systematic and non-systematic studies (mainly from the citizen science project “Ecuadorian Network for the Monitoring of Fauna Atropellada”), it was possible to have a vision overview of how this issue is in the country.
Preprint available: https://www.authorea.com/users/514206/articles/590095-first-national-assessment-of-wildlife-mortality-in-ecuador-an-effort-from-citizens-and-academia-to -collect-roadkill-data-at-country-scale
How does life history influence wildlife abuses in Latin America?
In general, road ecology studies report lists of species killed and highlight those with the highest mortality. However, the analysis does not usually go deeper enough to understand the reasons for this higher mortality for certain organisms. In a study we conducted with data from Latin America and the Caribbean, we identified that life traits play a key role in explaining mortality rates. Both large birds and medium-sized mammals generalists in diet and habitat, with more young, earlier sexual maturity, and higher population densities had higher roadkill rates. Specifically in mammals, a scavenger and invertebrate-based diet was associated with higher mortality. These models based on life traits combined with habitat preferences of the species and their geographic distribution allowed us to identify higher mortality on roads located in Central America, northern Andes, eastern Brazil, Uruguay, central and eastern Argentina, and the South of Chile.
What is the relevance of identifying conservation and research areas and why is it necessary to know this before establishing a highway?
The expansion of the road network is advancing exponentially, but in megadiverse areas such as Latin America, the largest expansion is planned worldwide. Unfortunately, the impacts of roads on biodiversity is a scarce or totally unknown topic in several areas of this region. One of the drawbacks for a further development of research is the lack of economic resources, so it is necessary that the available resources be invested strategically. Therefore, for a more efficient distribution of the resources available for science, it is of great value to prioritize research in areas not studied but with a large number of species susceptible to mortality on roads (priority areas for research). While identifying areas where the opening of roads could cause a great impact for species (priority areas for conservation), it can be key to determine alternatives with less impact on biodiversity.
What is the current perception in Ecuador of road ecology?
In Ecuador the ecology of highways is a recently known topic. Approximately five years ago more systematic studies began to be carried out, but overall there are only ten works combined between theses and scientific articles. I believe that the creation of the Ecuadorian Network for the Monitoring of Killed Fauna has made it possible to disseminate the impact of roads on fauna in a more general way and this has been important so that citizens are now aware of the dangers faced by fauna that circles near highways.
How can the joint work of Citizen Science, government and academia help to reduce the impacts of roads for the fauna of Ecuador?
Involving citizens in conservation projects is key to their success. In the case of road ecology, it is very important that citizens are aware of the negative effects of roads on species, and thus sow a culture of caution when driving, and above all respect for life. Additionally, adding government entities to research efforts allows decision makers to be aware of this reality and to facilitate the development of measures to mitigate this impact.
Our most recent research work included efforts from academia, citizenship and government in Ecuador, and we believe that this can be an important step so that scientific knowledge and the needs of the people are taken into account so that future road projects are developed from an approach that prioritizes both the well-being of people and wildlife.