How Human Roads And Highways Hurt Wildlife Habitats – Forcing Adaptation And Evolution
Evolution allows species to adapt to their ecosystem, so that the species can fulfill a niche and live to procreate and carry on. Those species that didn’t evolve fast enough and were unable to change their localized living spaces are either no longer with us, or risk joining the list of abundant species and then, perhaps eventual extinction. Let’s discuss how humans are modifying not only our own ecosystem but the ecosystem we proportion with other species and how that affects their adaptations and evolutionary course of action.
There was an interesting article in Science News online recently titled; “Roads are driving rapid evolutionary change in our ecosystem – Study explains why road ecology matters,” published on February 17, 2017 about a study from Dartmouth College which stated: “Roads are causing rapid evolutionary change in wild populations of plants and animals according to a new paper. The study looks at the evolutionary changes that are being caused by the way roads slice and dice our plane.”
Amongst the four major ways our roads are messing with wildlife are:
(1) Road Kill
(2) Toxic Fumes from Vehicles
(3) Invasive Species
(4) Changes in hydroelectricity and Water Flow Run-off
But, to this list I’d like to add road noise, interfering in the hunting and evading course of action of character, and urban heat island effect. Also, hunting by humans, easier access to animals that hangout near roads for road kill, warmth, or water runoff – and poisoning by humans who put out poisons to prevent rodents and gophers from digging borrows under the road way or into nearby flood control levees and infrastructures. So, let’s call these:
(5) Road Noise – Harder to hear predators or prey
(6) Heating – Roads are hotter
(7) Human Hunting Access
(8) Poisoning – Rodent control on roadway ditches, sidewalks, road base
There are many road Kill studies – one I often like to cite is by Sean Anderson of California State University Channel Islands in CA. One of his graduate students has a thesis of interest; “Web-Based Reporting System for Road Kill” which was an incredibly insightful project as to just how many animals are killed each year in rural areas in California. Those animals who avoid roads live to procreate, those who don’t often get smushed, providing protein for scavengers who take advantage of this new food supply – sometimes at their own peril.
Those animals that listen for cars, or watch carefully and react quickly survive and thrive, procreate and continue. Nocturnal Animals that do not freeze in car headlights – well, they live and procreate too, those who don’t perish and become road pizza.
There have been many stories about Mountain Lions killed on Southern California Freeways – attempting to cross. You’d think a mountain lion would learn and be nimble enough to get out of the way – not so, as nothing they’ve ever encountered weighs 6,000 lbs. and chases after them at 60+ miles per hour, so they are not on the lookout for cars. Although some of the mountain lions tagged have ordinarily crossed freeways in CA, maybe they are learning and adapting, teaching their young, maybe in 20-generations adaptations will start to appear as they evolve for this new threat?
A recent statistical study showed that the average point in the US is less than 1/2 mile from a paved road. Our wildlife has to adapt or die to deal with these changes in their ecosystem. You can just imagine the many ways these and other issues are changing their evolutionary adaptation. Pigeons have alternation to live in the city, in parks, along with other species – completely changing the dynamics of their normal evolutionary course of action, simply because everything we do, affects something else. BTW – I am not an environmentalist or an advocate for wildlife, but no one can deny what I’ve said here today is not real.