Last Tuesday when we were driving to Panama City we watched a mother sloth and her baby finishing crossing the road Avenida Omar Torrijos Herrera. Luckily, the taxi driver who was driving ahead of us had stopped and waited for these slow animals to finish crossing: very impressive taking into account the crazy driving characteristic of Panama City. The number 2 reason I’m writing about this incident (let’s be honest, reason # 1 is that I will never get tired of talking about baby sloths) is that roadkills are a serious threat to animals all over the world, affecting millions of amphibians, reptiles and mammals every year.
One conservation tool to deal with roadkills are wildlife corridors. Furthermore, these corridors not only can help decrease roadkills, but are also crucial for landscape connectivity. As human establishments and roads keep expanding, wildlife corridors remain a key tool in maintaining fragmented habitats and their populations viable. Despite their great conservation potential, in many cases wildlife corridors do not fully serve their intended purposes, mainly due to the gaps in our understanding of animal movement and behaviour. Additionally, in few occasions the efficiency of established corridors is monitored, which may result in resource waste and the continuous degradation of populations and their habitats.
During our stay in BCI, we were very fortunate to meet Meg Croofot and learn about her exciting research. She uses animal tracking and spatial analysis to better understand animal ecology, for example primate foraging. New advances in tracking technology (GPS and animal sensors), such as real-time data and smaller tags with sensors able to extract different kinds of information (acceleration, pressure and temperature), have completely changed the field of movement ecology.
Figure taken from Chetkiewicz et al. 2006. A) Map showing telemetry data for 3 grizzly bears and assigned wildlife corridors in the Canmore region of the Bow Valley, Alberta. B) Same map of the region showing the results of a Resource Selection Function (RSF), which by combining topographic, vegetation and bear telemetry data identifies the areas likely to be occupied by grizzly bears (high to low probability of occupancy).
Studying animal movement can teach us a great deal of animal behaviour (how are animals using their space, which are their resting and frequented sites, etc.), and this information can be very valuable when designing conservation strategies. For example, by tracking animals and mapping their frequented routes/sites we can build models to design effective wildlife corridors. Furthermore, with the rapid evolution of tracking technology and its integration with other techniques such as remote sensing, we can expect that in the near future we will be able to apply it to a wider range of organisms and habitats.
Beautiful collared three-toed sloth! (Kays et al. 2015)
Wildlife corridors that increase connectivity and reduce roadkills could be a meaningful project for Panama and other Latin American countries, which will require that roads are not only designed for cars and people, but “with wildlife in mind”.
- Chetkiewicz, C. L. B., St. Clair, C. C., & Boyce, M. S. (2006). Corridors for conservation: integrating pattern and process. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 317-342.
- Gaskill, M. (2013). Rise in Roadkill Requires New Solutions. Scientific American, May, 16, 2013.
- Kays, R., Crofoot, M. C., Jetz, W., & Wikelski, M. (2015). Terrestrial animal tracking as an eye on life and planet. Science, 348(6240), aaa2478.
- LaPoint, S., Gallery, P., Wikelski, M., & Kays, R. (2013). Animal behavior, cost-based corridor models, and real corridors. Landscape Ecology, 28(8), 1615-1630.