By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Anyone who has driven a stretch of the interstate has probably seen road kill. I have very distinct memories of it as a child. Often road kill would be an unlucky skunk whose scent would linger in the air for miles. So imagine my surprise when I came across references to specimens that were road kill when I was cataloging in National Museum of Natural History, Division of Mammals. I would find the term “dead on road” written in the remarks section of specimen catalogs. I have since learned that this is a common term used by natural history museums when documenting this method of collecting.
Road kill can be an important source of information for several reasons. It can be useful to scientists who are seeking to understand locations and movement of wildlife in their habitats. It also helps scientists determine how wildlife is affected by the ever increasing number of highways across the US.
- Road kill is important to the study of road ecology (subdiscipline of ecology that focuses on understanding the interactions between road systems and the natural environment): http://srel.uga.edu/Reprint/3091.htm
- Institutions, like University of California at Davis, have set up systems that utilize citizen scientist input for state wide observation systems: http://roadecology.ucdavis.edu/
- Road kill is used in studies beyond the United States: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss1/art9/
- Road kill documentation has led to discoveries about how vehicle traffic is affecting the evolution of wildlife (evidence of animals evolving to avoid becoming road kill): http://www.nature.com/news/swallows-may-be-evolving-to-dodge-traffic-1.12614
- Barn owls as road kill was the topic of a winning essay (2007) in American Museum of Natural History’s Young Naturalist contest: http://www.amnh.org/learn-teach/young-naturalist-awards/winning-essays2/2007-winning-essays/barn-owls-on-the-side-of-the-road
Road kill may seem sad and simply be something to be cleaned off the pavement, but it can also provide important information that can inform how we are impacting our local environments and associated wildlife. And road kill data that is recorded in field notes by scientists and volunteers are vital to informing these studies.
A quick followup…
Since originally researching this topic, I’ve come across a number of blog posts that discuss an inevitable but fascinating development brought about by road kill research—animal crossings. Curious to learn more about work conducted in this area? Check out the links below: