Inside:  A good road ecology definition looks at both how roads affect the environment and how they impact wildlife in particular.  Two questions about road ecology are important.  What effects do roads have on ecological processes that help wildlife thrive.  What effects do roads directly have on wildlife populations?

A good road ecology definition sums up the connection between roads and the natural environment.  Road ecology studies the relationship between roads and the natural environment.  What effects do roads directly have on ecological processes that help wildlife thrive.  What effects do roads have on wildlife populations?

“I am of the opinion that architecture should exist quietly with nature, never opposing it. I am positive that a choice between these alternatives no longer applies. Architecture and nature should be integrated. Both should be part of our daily life.” ~ Yasuhiro Yamashita

How do Roads Affect the Environment?

The first part of the road ecology definition needs to look at how the roads affect the environment they pass through.  Roads affect the environment in many ways.  Many, if not all, have a negative impact on wildlife and in many cases humans too.  Specifically, roads:

  • fragment the environment and can create barriers to movement.
  • alter the environment in some way; edge habitat is created when roads run through forests which results in very different ecological conditions compared to interior forest; temperature, humidity, wind speeds and thus, kinds of animals attracted to the altered environment differ.
  • create pollution that enters the environment including debris from tires, oil, carbon and gases from internal combustion; deicing salts and light and noise from cars are also sources of pollution.

So, although roads are essential for us to move between urban areas and transport essential products, they also have negative impacts on wildlife and humans.

How do Roads Affect Wildlife?

In order to fully understand the road ecology definition, we need to understand how they affect wildlife.  As Tom Cochrane said, “Life is a highway”.  Our landscape certainly is criss-crossed with roads big and small.  So much land has been fragmented that these transportation networks are a threat to wildlife.  There are 3 main threats they pose:

  1. habitat loss
    • loss of quality habitat
    • reduction in size of habitat
  2. fragmentation of habitat
    • blocking wildlife from getting access to necessary resources
    • dividing of populations into smaller subpopulations leading to local extinction or extirpation
  3. death of wildlife
Squirrel killed by car.

Squirrels are frequent victims of road kill.
Image by Epic Images from Pixabay

Roads almost always cross wildlife habitat.  These roads, big or small, can block animals from crossing them.  And when animals do cross busy roads, they are often killed or injured when they are struck by cars.  As well, collisions with larger animals can result in human death as well.

Building roads is a necessary evil but they can be built in a way that reduces their negative effect on wildlife and humans.

Connectivity Conservation and Road Ecology

Landscape architects use principles of road ecology to create a balance between natural and built environments.  Connectivity conservation is essential for:

  • reducing habitat fragmentation
  • keeping ecosystems resilient (less likely to be affected by disturbances)
  • allowing wildlife to migrate

Heart Lake Road Ecology Project

Impact of roads can change over time.  Heart Lake Road in Brampton, Ontario began its life as a quiet back road.  As Brampton grew, housing and industry increased and spread.  Parts of Heart Lake Road cross provincially significant wetlands.  More housing and industry means increased traffic.  Thousands of animals cross this road regularly  Many of them are killed.

Four organizations came together to address the problems of traffic and animal deaths:

  • Toronto and Region Conservation Authority
  • City of Brampton
  • OREG ( the Toronto Zoo’s Ontario Road Ecology Group)
  • local community members
Turtle crossing the road

Turtles are often killed when they cross the road, many are killed along Heart Lake
Image by giorgos250 from Pixabay

These organizations worked together to create a citizen science program.  The results gathered from this program were used to motivate the City of Brampton to do the following to reduce animal deaths:

  • installation of a wildlife corridor, including fencing to keep animals off the road;
  • wildlife crossing signs were also used so drivers are aware of the possibility of coming in contact with animals on the road;
  • creation of habitat farther from the road so turtles in particular have a safer, alternative habitat;
  • add more from citizen scientist article
Wildlife crossing sign.

Wildlife crossing signs encourage people to slow down and watch for wildlife reducing deaths.
Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

The City of Brampton now includes road ecology principles in their planning practices to create a community safer for both people and wildlife.

Highway 69 wildlife overpass near Sudbury Ontario, Canada

Highway 69 overpass allows for the passage of big and small wildlife over the highway greatly reducing traffic-wildlife interactions.

Climate change can also alter the home ranges of many species.  To combat these changes, it is better to focus planning practices on land uses, specifically their ability to allow the movement of wildlife and to maintain, enhance, restore and protect wildlife links and corridors in the community.

Interested in becoming a citizen scientist?  Check out your local conservation authority or wildlife agency to see if they have one in place.  If not, consider forming one yourself if you see a need in your community to reduce the impact of roads on the wildlife in your community.