Scientist Saving Wombats From Being Roadkill

AUSTRALIA- A Canadian scientist has taken her skills to Australia where she is actively researching the increase in wombat deaths on the road and how roads and highways are fragmenting animal populations and putting them at risk. – Global Animal

Randy Boswell, Postmedia News
A young Canadian scientist who earned her academic spurs studying moose and porcupines in the Great White North is now grabbing headlines Down Under for her efforts to protect Australia’s iconic wombat, the beaver-sized marsupial that is dying by the thousands as roadkill on highways around Sydney.

University of New South Wales wildlife biologist Erin Roger, an Ottawa native who also went to school in British Columbia and Nova Scotia, has raised alarms over the wombat carnage in southeast Australia, where about 3,000 of the creatures are killed annually by cars and trucks — often, ironically, in areas identified as wombat reserves.

“I am interested in how roads are an often overlooked threat and how we continue to build more and more roads with little regard for the kinds of habitat and species populations we are fragmenting,” Roger told Postmedia News. “I feel like people have this sense of inevitability when it comes to roadkill, whereas in most other situations that kind of loss of life would be otherwise very concerning.”

Her latest research, featured last week in the Sydney Morning Herald and on Australian radio, has highlighted the potential need for mitigation measures such as fencing along roadways and animal-crossing structures.

In the Herald article, the Canadian researcher perhaps risked a backlash from Australians by expressing her surprise at the “negative” attitudes many in the country hold toward commons species such as the wombat and kangaroo — treating “icons as pests,” she said.

“The conservation of wildlife populations living adjacent to roads is gaining international recognition as a worldwide concern,” Roger and two UNSW colleagues wrote recently in the journal Population Ecology.

Their study noted that road deaths are having a significant, species-wide impact and are a greater threat to some wombat subpopulations than either of the traditional threats to the animal — diseases such as mange or predation by the dingo and Tasmanian devil.

While wombat populations are generally considered healthy, Roger said biologists “simply don’t know” the actual numbers because wildlife research funding is focused largely on monitoring and protecting endangered species.

“There are arguments,” she notes, “that because they are abundant, common species are actually more important for ecosystem health and that we really should be investing in the species that are still doing OK.”