Roadside habitat impacts insect traffic mortality

Abstract

Paved roadways, spanning 6.6 million kilometres across the continental United States, are often bordered by natural or restored habitats and could provide opportunities for pollinator conservation. Because insects are frequently killed by auto traffic, roadside habitats may be ecological traps that kill more pollinators than they produce. Here we compare insect traffic mortality when roadsides are bordered by woodlots, meadows, or lawns. We also compare study sites with and without restored medians to examine the impact of creating habitat that can only be accessed by crossing traffic. We confined our study to high speed roads (70–90 km h−1) with heavy traffic volume. Both habitat type and the presence of a vegetated median affect vehicle strikes fatal to insects. Insect mortality in general, and its effect on bees and butterflies in particular, was consistently lower when roads were bordered by woodlots than when they were bordered by lawn or meadows. Which roadside habitats were associated with the highest insect mortality depended on the taxon in question and the presence or absence of a vegetated median. Butterfly and dragonfly mortality was highest on roads with meadow medians, while bee mortality was highest on roadsides with lawn medians. Across most site comparisons, vegetated medians significantly elevated fatal insect-vehicle strikes. Regardless of the habitat bordering roadsides, insect mortality was unacceptably high for areas being considered for conservation. We suggest four research directions that may lead to reduced insect mortality in roadside habitats.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Allen Family Fellowship and The University of Delaware Undergraduate Research program for financial support; and Dr. Charles Bartlett, Emily Baisden, Adam Mitchell, Grace Savory-Burke, and Kimberley Shropshire for help with insect identification; William Morrisey and Grace Clampit for help gathering samples along roadsides; and The Maryland Department of Transportation Transit Authority for granting us permission to sample along state roads.

Funding

Funding for undergraduate studies of William A. Keilson is from Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

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Correspondence to Douglas W. Tallamy.

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There is no conflict of interest.

Research involving human and animal participants

No animals were harmed by this study. Insects and animals that died on roads were not a result of this study’s manipulation, rather we looked for animal and insects that were already killed by existing traffic.

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Keilsohn, W., Narango, D.L. & Tallamy, D.W. Roadside habitat impacts insect traffic mortality. J Insect Conserv 22, 183–188 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10841-018-0051-2

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Keywords

  • Pollinators
  • Roadside restoration
  • Insect traffic mortality
  • Bees
  • Butterflies