Using maths to plan roads for wildlife

Koalas and cars briefSaving koalas from cars

We all have to negotiate roads in our daily lives; we cross roads to get to the shops, our kids cross roads as they walk or ride to school, and most of us have a road outside where we live. Although they are part of everyday life they pose significant risks to our safety. Vast amounts of money are invested every year making roads as safe as possible through the considered placement of busy roads and the installation of safety infrastructure, such as barriers and pedestrian crossings. The issue is exactly the same for our wildlife moving around the landscape. Yet we currently lack comprehensive plans to make our road networks as safe as possible for wildlife. CEED researchers are addressing this gap using the power of maths to develop new planning tools for environmentally-sensitive road planning.

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Imperfect detection and literary allusions

fox penguin Philip Island NPSpecies are often hard to detect in ecological surveys. They might hide from searchers – think of a frog hidden high in a tree. Or seeds of a plant might be present, yet the adult plants themselves might be absent until the seeds germinate. Or for migratory species, individuals might only be present at a site for a short period. How can we be sure that a species is truly, and permanently, absent?

CEED works extensively in the area of imperfect detection because the consequences are profound. Threatened species can remain undetected for years, even being listed as extinct when they in fact persist. These seemingly “extinct” species are sometimes rediscovered, with the moniker of “Lazarus species” alluding to them coming back from the dead. To help estimate the chances of such happy surprises, CEED published a new method to infer the probability that a species is extant given a set of sighting records (Lee et al. 2014).

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