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Tool to harmonise roads with wildlife habitats

Posted on Dec 17, 08:10AM | IANS

A new tool may minimise man-made distractions that effect our wildlife, by helping locate new roads and recreational trails more in harmony with their habitats.

"By predicting what the effects of sound will be on a bird or mammal species in advance, we can more adequately balance our land-use planning decisions with conservation considerations," said Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) scientist Sarah Reed, who led the study.

The tool, SPreAD-GIS, developed by the WCS and its partner, uses spatial data layers to predict how sound spreads from a source through the surrounding landscape and how it is affected by such factors as vegetation, terrain, weather conditions, and background sound levels, the journal Environmental Modelling Software reported.

For instance, the sensitivities of humans and owls to motor vehicle sound levels were compared.

The SPreAD-GIS analysis showed that in the same location, vehicular noise would affect owls in an area 45 percent larger than that affecting humans.

Exposure to noise may affect an owl's livelihood as it relies on its acute sense of hearing to detect the slightest movement of its prey, according to a WCS statement.

Reed and colleagues are currently using SPreAD-GIS and field measurements of motor vehicle noise to forecast the area affected for bird and mammal communities in the Sierra National Forest in California.

The model has been downloaded by hundreds of users in more than 25 countries and used for diverse education, research, and management applications.

This includes modelling potential noise propagation from roads, recreational activity, heavy equipment, residential development, and natural resource extraction.