Issue 13
Tuesday, 02 August 2016
Charles Darwin University
New research identifies stretches of road where the southern cassowary is most at risk. Photo: Jeff Larson
New research identifies stretches of road where the southern cassowary is most at risk. Photo: Jeff Larson

Research to help reduce wildlife road mortality

By Leanne Miles

New research assessing wildlife traffic strike “hot spots” of a rare and elusive bird species aims to raise public awareness and help reduce mortality rates.

The research led by Charles Darwin University senior research fellow Dr Hamish Campbell and published in the Journal of Applied Ecology identifies stretches of road where the southern cassowary is most at risk and provides information to support effective mitigation actions.

“The southern cassowary is a large flightless bird endemic to Australia that inhabits the wet tropical rain forest regions of north-east Australia,” Dr Campbell said. “Roads bisect their habitats and despite considerable investment into strategies to reduce road mortality, traffic strike is considered one of the primary threatening processes affecting the long-term viability of the population.”

Dr Campbell said that because the species was so elusive, it was very difficult to study in terms of population densities, and this had led to management strategies to reduce road strike being applied in an ad-hoc manner.

“By analysing strike data from the past two decades and enlisting the help of the public to report sightings, we have been able to determine that traffic strikes are mostly a density driven process,” Dr Campbell said.

“This means that traffic strikes generally occurred along stretches of road where cassowaries were most frequently sighted.”

He said the research was the first to use citizen-collected sightings data to determine the abundance and distribution of wildlife traffic strikes, and would assist in informing mitigation type and location.

“While not a replacement for systematic surveys, citizen-collected wildlife sighting data is a valuable resource and also helps to raise public awareness of the issues associated with wildlife traffic strikes,” he said.

“With the number and extent of road networks predicted to expand dramatically this century, the development of low-cost strategies for identifying a reliable predictor of where and when traffic strike hot spots are likely to occur is invaluable.”

Dr Campbell said that by feeding the information into a predictive model, wildlife managers could identify traffic strike hot spots to ensure the most effective allocation of resources when implementing wildlife traffic strike mitigation.

He said the research also identified stretches of road where a higher number of cassowaries were killed than predicted by the model.

“This was because these road stretches possessed particular features that increased the probability a road-crossing cassowary was hit by a passing vehicle,” he said.

“It is along these stretches where road-side management actions would be most effective in reducing cassowary traffic strike.”

The research was collaborative with The University of Queensland and the Community for Coastal and Cassowary Conservation.