Hothorn, Torsten; Brandl, Roland; Müller, Jörg
Large-scale model-based assessment of deer-vehicle collision risk.
In: PLOS ONE
Ungulates, in particular the Central European roe deer Capreolus capreolus and the North American white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus, are economically and ecologically important. The two species are risk factors for deer-vehicle collisions and as browsers of palatable trees have implications for forest regeneration. However, no large-scale management systems for ungulates have been implemented, mainly because of the high efforts and costs associated with attempts to estimate population sizes of free-living ungulates living in a complex landscape. Attempts to directly estimate population sizes of deer are problematic owing to poor data quality and lack of spatial representation on larger scales. We used data on >74,000 deer-vehicle collisions observed in 2006 and 2009 in Bavaria, Germany, to model the local risk of deer-vehicle collisions and to investigate the relationship between deer-vehicle collisions and both environmental conditions and browsing intensities. An innovative modelling approach for the number of deer-vehicle collisions, which allows nonlinear environment-deer relationships and assessment of spatial heterogeneity, was the basis for estimating the local risk of collisions for specific road types on the scale of Bavarian municipalities. Based on this risk model, we propose a new "deer-vehicle collision index" for deer management. We show that the risk of deer-vehicle collisions is positively correlated to browsing intensity and to harvest numbers. Overall, our results demonstrate that the number of deer-vehicle collisions can be predicted with high precision on the scale of municipalities. In the densely populated and intensively used landscapes of Central Europe and North America, a model-based risk assessment for deer-vehicle collisions provides a cost-efficient instrument for deer management on the landscape scale. The measures derived from our model provide valuable information for planning road protection and defining hunting quota. Open-source software implementing the model can be used to transfer our modelling approach to wildlife-vehicle collisions elsewhere.