GUEST ARTICLE: MY JOURNEY IN ROAD ECOLOGY

A rewarding part of my career has been training and capacity-building and seeing people and organisations become local, regional, and world-leaders in their work.  A highlight for me has been watching the growth of Wendy Collinson and the Endangered Wildlife Trust to become local and international leaders in transportation ecology.

My name is Dr Rodney van der Ree, and I first met Wendy Collinson in around 2010. Our first collaboration was to co-organise a symposium at the International Wildlife Management Congress in Durban in 2012, followed by a workshop at the EWT office in Johannesburg a couple of days later. The concept of ‘road ecology’ was explored for the first time in Africa at these two events, and participants clearly understood its importance. Wendy and the team at EWT continued to develop the program and established partnerships with local road agencies (namely Bakwena, N3TC and TRAC N4), SANParks and universities to begin collecting data and training students.

In 2015 I returned to South Africa to support another series of workshops on road ecology in Africa run by EWT at a conference in Howick (The Symposium of Contemporary Conservation Practice) and Johannesburg (The Green Mile). It was incredible to see the growth in the field since the initial visit in 2012 and participation by a larger and more diverse group of people. This was also an exciting trip for me because I brought about 30 copies of my recently published ‘Handbook of Road Ecology’ (www.handbookofroadecology.org), which included four chapters from Africa, including a Chapter by Wendy and colleagues at the EWT. The handbook has 62 chapters written by more than 100 leading transportation ecologists from around the world, and I have half-price copies available as part of the 2nd ACLIE congress (see ACLIE article) that was just held. If you are interested, please send me an email rvdr@unimelb.edu.au and I can give you a quote for postage.

I started my career as a post-doctoral researcher at The University of Melbourne Australia and very quickly became focused on quantifying and mitigating the impacts of roads and traffic on wildlife. With numerous students and collaborators (including Dr Manisha Bhardwaj, who wrote an article in this newsletter last month), this field of research and practice’s critical importance is growing rapidly. I have since moved into ecological consulting to work more closely with those who are planning, designing, building and managing the roads, railways and other linear infrastructure that is being built across Africa at a pace never seen before. In an effort to improve access to important information, I established the open-access resource hub www.TransportEcology.info earlier this year, with Wendy and Lucy Waruingi (from the African Conservation Centre) on the editorial board. The site includes blog-style summaries of relevant peer-reviewed scientific articles, as well as space for case studies and best-practise notes. You are invited to submit your articles for publication and encouraged to subscribe to receive notifications when new articles are published.

Transportation ecology in Africa has come a long way since Wendy, and I ran those initial meetings almost a decade ago. With Wendy spearheading the establishment of ACLIE and the successful online ACLIE congress in August 2021, there is now a much larger group of people involved and dozens of research and management projects across many parts of Africa. Importantly, there is a growing realisation in government of the need for applied research, comprehensive environmental impact assessments, and innovation to ensure the roads, railways, and other linear infrastructure we build today do not undermine our ecosystems’ ecological integrity and sustainability for decades to come.