An ongoing project through Stephen F. Austin State University's Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture provides Texans with the opportunity to contribute valuable scientific data by simply documenting a common, albeit less than appealing, presence along our highways - roadkill.
"This is an ongoing citizen scientist project," said Dr. Christopher Schalk, assistant professor of forest wildlife management at SFA. "We want to enhance our understanding of the impacts of roads on the animals of Texas and understand the patterns and vulnerabilities among different groups of animals."
Schalk said landscape features surrounding a road help predict where key crossing areas will be for certain species. For example, a road with ponds on either side may result in increased mortality rates for amphibians such as frogs.
Once these mortalities are documented, steps can then be taken to mitigate the number of wildlife species killed at these crossings.
One of the most common examples of this is the placement of signs along certain roadways warning drivers of wildlife. Additionally, man-made wildlife corridors have been constructed around the world in an attempt to reduce the number of wildlife fatalities. These crossings can be as simple as small culverts or as elaborate as elevated bridges covered in vegetation spanning multi-lane highways.
Using the free iNaturalist app available for download, participants simply upload photos of their sightings and link their observations to Schalk's project by searching "Roadkills of Texas" under the site's project search bar.
"If your locations service is activated on your cell phone, every time you take a picture, data such as longitude and latitude, as well as the time and date are recorded," Schalk said. "When you upload it to the website, iNaturalist extracts the data and basically puts it into a big spreadsheet."
If a participant is unsure of the species they are documenting, the thousands of users and curators of the app, many of whom are academics or naturalists, can provide feedback.
"It's what's known as research grade observation," Schalk said. "There are really good curators that are constantly verifying what species has been documented."
Currently, Schalk's project has more than 2,700 observations of 182 species from across the state. The most common observation is that of the slender glass lizard, a thin, legless lizard native to Texas and much of the southeastern U.S.
In addition to contributing to Schalk's project, participants can also link their observations to the many other relevant groups collecting data across the state.