This citizen science project addresses roadkill and potentially saving animals

In the United States, it is estimated that more than one million vertebrates die in vehicle collisions each day. Yet despite the ubiquity of roadkill, there is actually little comprehensive data on how many animals are killed by cars each year. The US does not have a national database of road homicides, and most states do not have good systems for tracking them either. Many traffic accidents go unreported.

Citizen science projects try to fill these gaps by asking volunteers to note and report on the road kills they find. While it’s impossible for researchers to track all roadkill incidents themselves, an army of volunteers spread across the country following the same roads they already travel could offer better data. You can find one such project called Reports of roadkillon SciStarter, along with thousands of other citizen science projects.

“I started Roadkill Reports as a project that anyone, or almost anyone, could participate in,” says Kate Bailey, who founded the project in 2015. “I thought it would be a really good way to give people a chance to get in the water. “

To participate in Roadkill Reports, a SciStarter partner project, people spend just a few minutes recording basic information about roadkill sightings, such as location and species. This data is compiled into a database that aims to gather more comprehensive statistics on which animals are killed in the US and where.

Shipments are registered The anecdotea citizen science data collection platform that Bailey co-founded with colleagues at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Maine.

The data is available for scientists to download and use, although Bailey notes that not many people have yet downloaded Roadkill Reports datasets. However, this may change in the future as more people add their observations to Roadkill Reports and help make the data more comprehensive.

Learning from new data

Better roadkill data doesn’t just help scientists save animals. Like 2020 survey in European Journal of Wildlife Research notes that Roadkill also gives wildlife biologists valuable information about trends in animal populations, the spread of native and invasive species, animal behavior, and pathogens that infect animals.

Several general trends are evident in the Roadkill Reports data, Bailey says. For example, smaller, slower animals seem to be much more likely to be hit. “A lot of raccoons, a lot of opossums, a lot of skunks,” she says.

But many species appear in the Roadkill Reports database, from rabbits to turtles to wild boar, all sharing the same roads we travel on. The project expands our understanding of what animals are killed on roads beyond the few states, like California and Colorado, where this data is actually recorded.

Better data for better policies

However, if the California data is any indication, roadkill is a serious problem—for wildlife and people alike. A 2021 Report from the Center for Highway Ecology at the University of California, Davis, puts the total cost of collisions between 2016 and 2020 at about $1 billion, perhaps as high as $2 billion. The price for the entire US will certainly be much higher. And Data for 2021 compiled by the Colorado Department of Transportation, lists animals as diverse as badgers, bobcats, eagles, moose, horses, snakes and turkeys among those reported as roadkill in the state.

Many traffic accidents, especially those involving smaller animals, go unreported, making it difficult to truly estimate the number and type of animals killed. For example, a study estimates the number of birds killed by vehicle collisions in the US at between 89 and 340 million per year.

Bailey says she hopes to see data from the Roadkill Reports used by the Department of Transportation and other agencies to help develop better ways to help keep animals from being killed by cars.

“My dream for this project is that the data will eventually be used by policymakers when they design, for example, culverts, stream crossings and other things,” she says.

An example of what is already being used in the real world are special bridges and underpasses along wildlife corridors crossing busy highways designed specifically for use by migrating animals. Crossings help deer, bears, mountain lions and other species move safely across busy roads without danger to them or passing drivers. With time and investment, we may one day see the number of animals killed by cars begin to decline. But until then, the best thing we can do is learn more about where roadkill is happening and what we can do to stop it.

Want to learn more about Roadkill Reports? See our recordings SciStarter LIVE! webinar on the project, featuring Cait Bailey. And you can find many more citizen science projects involving wildlife on SciStarter. Since Roadkill Reports is a SciStarter partner, you earn credit in your Dashboard for your participation. Click the Visit button on the project page. You will be directed to the project website or app and invited to create a project account there. Use the same email address (case sensitive!) that you used to create your SciStarter account to join this project.

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