Why are some animal populations unaffected or positively affected by roads?
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In reviews on effects of roads on animal population abundance we found that most effects are negative; however, there are also many neutral and positive responses [Fahrig and Rytwinski (Ecol Soc 14:21, 2009; Rytwinski and Fahrig (Biol Conserv 147:87–98, 2012)]. Here we use an individual-based simulation model to: (1) confirm predictions from the existing literature of the combinations of species traits and behavioural responses to roads that lead to negative effects of roads on animal population abundance, and (2) improve prediction of the combinations of species traits and behavioural responses to roads that lead to neutral and positive effects of roads on animal population abundance. Simulations represented a typical situation in which road mitigation is contemplated, i.e. rural landscapes containing a relatively low density (up to 1.86 km/km2) of high-traffic roads, with continuous habitat between the roads. In these landscapes, the simulations predict that populations of species with small territories and movement ranges, and high reproductive rates, i.e. many small mammals and birds, should not be reduced by roads. Contrary to previous suggestions, the results also predict that populations of species that obtain a resource from roads (e.g. vultures) do not increase with increasing road density. In addition, our simulations support the predation release hypothesis for positive road effects on prey (both small- and large-bodied prey), whereby abundance of a prey species increased with increasing road density due to reduced predation by generalist road-affected predators. The simulations also predict an optimal road density for the large-bodied prey species if it avoids roads or traffic emissions. Overall, the simulation results suggest that in rural landscapes containing high-traffic roads, there are many species for which road mitigation may not be necessary; mitigation efforts should be tailored to the species that show negative population responses to roads.
KeywordsLandscape connectivity Landscape fragmentation Landscape structure Population density Road mitigation
We are grateful to L. Tischendorf for modelling assistance. We also thank the reviewers for their constructive comments. This study was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) scholarship to T. R. and NSERC and Canada Foundation for Innovation grants to L. F.
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