In spring 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, fewer frogs died from vehicle collisions than during the season in recent years, according to a new study led by a University of Maine graduate student and a community science project coordinator.
Vehicles kill many adult frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians crossing roads, especially during their spring migrations. When traffic plummeted in the early months of the pandemic, Greg LeClair decided to investigate how this slowdown in human activity would affect amphibian mortality.
LeClair, an UMaine graduate student in ecology and environmental sciences, used data gathered while conducting the annual spring community science project Maine Big Night: Amphibian Migration Monitoring, which he founded. Volunteers in the effort will collect data on frogs and salamanders crossing roads in locations across Maine from March 15 through May 15.
The team found that 50% fewer frogs died from vehicle collisions in Maine in the spring of 2020 than in the same time periods in 2018, 2019, and 2021. When compared with collision data for other species from the Maine Department of Transportation, the researchers found a wider decline in animal traffic deaths in the state in the spring of 2020, a similar finding was shown in other studies worldwide.
Zach Wood, a postdoctoral fellow at UMaine School of Biology and Ecology; Matthew Chatfield, a UMaine Assistant Professor of Evolution and Eco-Health; Jeffrey Parmelee, evolutionary biologist and ecologist at the University of New England; and Cheryl Frederick, an animal behaviorist with the Center for Wildlife Studies, all participated in the study. They published their results in the journal Conservation science and practice.
âSignificant impacts on wildlife are within reach for most people; You just have to try not to drive on those warm, rainy spring nights, âsays LeClair.
While the incidence of frog deaths from vehicles decreased significantly in the first few months of the pandemic, no significant change was observed in street mortality among salamanders.
Researchers believe the discrepancy may be related to rainfall, as salamanders typically travel less when it is raining, while frogs remain untouched or increase their movement. According to researchers, more frogs than salamanders died in vehicle collisions across the country from 2018 to 2021, especially in warmer and wetter weather.
In addition to supporting research like this latest study, the Maine Big Night project is also used to monitor amphibian populations and identify locations where many are killed in vehicle collisions. Participants also help escort live frogs and salamanders across the street to reduce mortality.
According to LeClair, 426 certified volunteers, with 149 providing data as the main submitter, have surveyed 199 locations across Maine as part of the Maine Big Night since 2018. His project has gained national attention, with articles about it published in the New York Times and The Atlantic.
“I’ve been driving frogs and salamanders off the streets since I was a child,” says LeClair, “hopefully this work will help repair these ecological wounds.”
Contact: Marcus Wolf, 207.581.3721; [email protected]