Although roads and urban areas usually occupy only a small fraction of a linkage design, their impacts threaten to block animal movement between the habitat blocks. In this section, we review the potential impacts of these features on ecological processes, identify specific barriers in the linkage design, and suggest appropriate mitigations.
While roads and fences impede animal movement, and the crossing structures we recommend are important, we remind the reader that crossing structures are only part of the overall linkage design. To restore and maintain connectivity between any two wildland blocks, it is essential to consider the entire linkage design, including conserving the land in the linkage. Indeed, investment in a crossing structure would be futile if habitat between the crossing structure and either wildland block is lost.
While the physical footprint of the nearly 4 million miles of roads in the United States is relatively small, the ecological footprint of the road network extends much farther. Direct effects of roads include road mortality, habitat fragmentation and loss, and reduced connectivity, and the severity of these effects depends on the ecological characteristics of a given species. Direct roadkill affects most species, with severe documented impacts on wide-ranging predators such as the cougar in southern California, the Florida panther, the ocelot, the wolf, and the Iberian lynx (Forman et al. 2003).
In a 4-year study of 15,000 km of road observations in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Rosen and Lowe (1994) found an average of at least 22.5 snakes per km per year killed due to vehicle collisions. Although we may not often think of roads as causing habitat loss, a single freeway (typical width = 50 m, including median and shoulder) crossing diagonally across a 1-mile section of land results in the loss of 4.4% of habitat area for any species that cannot live in the right-of-way. Roads cause habitat fragmentation because they break large habitat areas into small, isolated habit patches which support few individuals; these small populations lose genetic diversity and are at risk of local extinction.
In addition to these obvious effects, roads create noise and vibration that interfere with ability of reptiles, birds, and mammals to communicate, detect prey, or avoid predators. Roads also increase the spread of exotic plants, promote erosion, create barriers to fish, and pollute water sources with roadway chemicals (Forman et al. 2003). Highway lighting also has important impacts on animals (Rich and Longcore 2006).
Wildlife crossing structures that have been used in North America and Europe to facilitate movement through landscapes fragmented by roads include wildlife overpasses & green bridges, bridges, culverts, and pipes. While many of these structures were not originally constructed with ecological connectivity in mind, many species benefit from them (Clevenger et al. 2001; Forman et al. 2003). No single crossing structure will allow all species to cross a road. For example rodents prefer to use pipes and small culverts, while bighorn prefer vegetated overpasses or open terrain below high bridges. A concrete box culvert may be readily accepted by a mountain lion or bear, but not by a deer or bighorn sheep. Small mammals, such as deer mice and voles, prefer small culverts to wildlife overpasses (McDonald & St Clair 2004).
Wildlife overpasses are most often designed to improve opportunities for large mammals to cross busy highways. Approximately 50 overpasses have been built in the world, with only 6 of these occurring in North America (Forman et al. 2003). Overpasses are typically 30 to 50 m wide, but can be as large as 200 m wide. In Banff National Park, Alberta, grizzly bears, wolves, and all ungulates (including bighorn sheep, deer, elk, and moose) prefer overpasses to underpasses, while species such as mountain lions prefer underpasses (Clevenger & Waltho 2005).
Wildlife underpasses include viaducts, bridges, culverts, and pipes, and are often designed to ensure adequate drainage beneath highways. For ungulates such as deer that prefer open crossing structures, tall, wide bridges are best. Mule deer in southern California only used underpasses below large spanning bridges (Ng et al. 2004), and the average size of underpasses used by white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania was 15 ft wide by 8 ft high (Brudin 2003). Because most small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and insects need vegetative cover for security, bridged undercrossings should extend to uplands beyond the scour zone of the stream, and should be high enough to allow enough light for vegetation to grow underneath. In the Netherlands, rows of stumps or branches under crossing structures have increased connectivity for smaller species crossing bridges on floodplains (Forman et al. 2003).
Drainage culverts can mitigate the effects of busy roads for small and medium sized mammals (Clevenger et al. 2001; McDonald & St Clair 2004). Culverts and concrete box structures are used by many species, including mice, shrews, foxes, rabbits, armadillos, river otters, opossums, raccoons, ground squirrels, skunks, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, black bear, great blue heron, long-tailed weasel, amphibians, lizards, snakes, and southern leopard frogs (Yanes et al. 1995; Brudin III 2003; Dodd et al. 2004; Ng et al. 2004). Black bear and mountain lion prefer less-open structures (Clevenger & Waltho 2005). In south Texas, bobcats most often used 1.85 m x 1.85 m box culverts to cross highways, preferred structures near suitable scrub habitat, and sometimes used culverts to rest and avoid high temperatures (Cain et al. 2003). Culvert usage can be enhanced by providing a natural substrate bottom, and in locations where the floor of a culvert is persistently covered with water, a concrete ledge established above water level can provide terrestrial species with a dry path through the structure (Cain et al. 2003). It is important for the lower end of the culvert to be flush with the surrounding terrain. Many culverts are built with a concrete pour-off of 8-12 inches, and others develop a pour-off lip due to scouring action of water. A sheer pour-off of several inches makes it unlikely that many small mammals, snakes, and amphibians will find or use the culvert.
|Effect of roads|
|Characteristics making a species vulnerable to road effects||Road mortality||Habitat loss||Reduced connectivity|
|Attraction to road habitat||x|
|High intrinsic mobility||x|
|Multiple resource needs||x||x|
|Large area requirements/low density||x||x||x|
|Low reproductive rate||x||x||x|
|Behavioral avoidance of roads||x|
Based on the small but increasing number of scientific studies on wildlife use of highway crossing structures, we offer these standards and guidelines for all existing and future crossing structures intended to facilitate wildlife passage.