A Comparison of Data Sets Varying in Spatial Accuracy Used to Predict the Occurrence of Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions

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Environmental Management





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Wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) pose a significant safety and conservation concern in areas where high-traffic roads are situated adjacent to wildlife habitat. Improving transportation safety, accurately planning highway mitigation, and identifying key habitat linkage areas may all depend on the quality of WVC data collection. Two common approaches to describe the location of WVCs are spatially accurate data derived from global positioning systems (GPS) or vehicle odometer measurements and less accurate road-marker data derived from reference points (e.g., mile-markers or landmarks) along the roadside. In addition, there are two common variable types used to predict WVC locations: (1) field-derived, site-specific measurements and (2) geographic information system (GIS)-derived information. It is unclear whether these different approaches produce similar results when attempting to identify and explain the location of WVCs. Our first objective was to determine and compare the spatial error found in road-marker data (in our case the closest mile-marker) and landmark-referenced data. Our second objective was to evaluate the performance of models explaining high- and low-probability WVC locations, using congruent, spatially accurate (<3-m) and road-marker (<800-m) response variables in combination with field- and GIS-derived explanatory variables. Our WVC data sets were comprised of ungulate collisions and were located along five major roads in the central Canadian Rocky Mountains. We found that spatial error (mean ± SD) was higher for WVC data referenced to nearby landmarks (516 ± 808 m) than for data referenced to the closest mile-marker data (401 ± 219 m). The top-performing model using the spatially accurate WVC locations contained all explanatory variable types, whereas GIS-derived variables were only influential in the best road-marker model and the spatially accurate reduced model. Our study showed that spatial error and sample size, using road-marker data for ungulate species, are important to consider for model output interpretation, which will impact the appropriate scale on which to apply modeling results. Using road-marker references <1.6 km or GPS-derived data locations may represent an optimal compromise between data acquisition costs and analytical performance.

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