An article co-authored by Stephen Mugel ’13 and Assistant Professor of Biology Bradley Cosentino was published in a recent issue of Biological Conservation. Titled “Citizen science reveals widespread negative effects of roads on amphibian distributions,” the study used data collected by volunteer citizens over the past two decades that was analyzed by students from HWS and eight other colleges and universities.
Cosentino says the study found that roads appear to have the most consistent negative effects on amphibian distributions across species and regions. “Amphibian distributions were constricted when there were either landscapes with a high density of roads, or roads with lots of traffic,” he said.
The study was a two-year project and the publication is based on the first year’s work. The data used was collected from 1,617 sampling locations throughout 13 states in the eastern and central United States, as part of the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program. The long-term monitoring program is organized by the U.S. Geological Survey to track trends in frog and toad populations. Volunteer citizens were trained and assigned to study sites within their states, then performed a number of surveys at each site annually, each of which involves listening for frogs and toads heard calling during a five-minute survey period.
Approximately 200 undergraduate students in biology and environmental science courses from participating institutions compiled and organized the frog data collected from 1994-2012. They used computer software to characterize land use patterns around each study site. For example, they determined how much of the land around each study site is agricultural, developed, forested, and wetland.
A total of 22 students in Cosentino’s “Conservation Biology” course worked on the study as a lab project in the spring of 2013. Student representatives from each class traveled with their instructors to a project meeting in Santa Barbara, where the data was combined and analyzed. Mugel was the class representative who accompanied Cosentino.
The study is significant, explained Cosentino, because conservation biologists are interested in how human land use affects the distribution and abundance of wildlife. “Previous studies on amphibians have been isolated to specific locations or species. Our study was novel because we were able to examine how land use affects many amphibian species across a broad geographical region,” he said. “A recent study found that amphibian occupancy is declining at 3.7 percent per year in the U.S. Based on our findings, we argue that mitigating the negative effects of roads will be an important component of amphibian conservation throughout the eastern and central U.S.”
He noted mitigation strategies can include underground tunnels, fences to prevent amphibians from entering roads, or even reduced road salt application. Additional study is needed to determine which strategies are most helpful in particular situations.
Mugel credits his fieldwork on this project, and with other members of the biology department, for preparing him for fieldwork in conservation biology and animal behavior that he is currently doing in south-central Florida at Archbold Biological Station. Mugel is working on a conservation project with endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (RCWs) and Florida Scrub-Jays. This project is centered primarily on habitat management and conservation for RCWs to bolster the local population. He spent the last spring and summer researching scrub jay demography and variation in individual personalities.
“Working with Professor Cosentino on our data and presenting to our collaborators at NCEAS was exciting and gave me insight into the world of collaborative research, field science, and the prep-work that goes into producing a peer-reviewed publication,” said Mugel. “It’s fantastic to see our work come to fruition and hopefully our large-scale analysis on disturbance will translate to physical conservation efforts.”
Mugel earned a B.S. in biology summa cum laude from Hobart College and completed an Honors project on “The Social Influences of Male Courtship: Competition, Female Quality and Indications of Female Selectivity.” He earned the First Year Academic Achievement Award, the Alumni Association Award, and was inducted into Chimera, Orange Key and Phi Beta Kappa. He was a teaching fellow for the Biology Department and was active with the Kappa Alpha Society, club hockey, The Circle, and studied abroad in Copenhagen.
Having joined the faculty in 2012, Cosentino earned his B.A. from Augustana College, and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. His interest is in evolutionary biology and ecology, and his research includes animal movements and population dynamics.
The other participating colleges and universities were: Anoka Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids, Minn.; Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y.; Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla.; the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, R.I.; the University of South Carolina – Salkehatchie; Utah State University in Logan; and Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C.