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Pollutant accumulation in road mitigation tunnels for amphibians: A multisite comparison on an ignored but important issue

Published version
Peer-reviewed

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Authors

White, KJ 
Petrovan, SO 
Mayes, WM 

Abstract

jats:pUnderpasses or road tunnels are increasingly installed to reconnect habitats and ensure safe wildlife passage, thus preventing habitat fragmentation caused by roads and mortality from collisions with vehicles. In the UK, such underpasses are regularly implemented for amphibians and especially the protected great crested newt, jats:italicTriturus cristatus</jats:italic>. However, roads are also a key source of environmental pollutants including trace metals, road salt, petroleum and diesel hydrocarbons and these might impact road mitigation structures where amphibians are funnelled to, yet the extent and implications of such pollutants are almost never quantified in relation to this aspect, despite the recognised sensitivity of amphibians to chemical pollutants. Sediments were analysed from four amphibian road mitigation tunnel sites across the UK and compared to natural soil formations at local reference sites to determine whether contaminants were indeed accumulating within the tunnels. Three potential contaminants (copper, lead, and total petroleum hydrocarbons) were found in greater concentrations in the underpass sediments than respective reference sites at three of four locations, while one (zinc) was found in greater concentrations at all four studied underpasses compared to reference sites. Aggregated sediment pH value was significantly greater in the underpass sediment than the respective reference sites at all four study sites and in several instances the contaminants reached values that exceeded the thresholds of environmental concern. Despite the large geographic area covered and the significant site differences the absolute values of potential pollutants in tunnels were similar across sites, thus suggesting similar pollution sources and pathways. These results suggest road tunnels installed for ecological mitigation could be a significant pathway for pollutants from road surfaces to amphibians and it is recommended that focussed monitoring and maintenance of the underpasses is enacted given that their short or long-term impacts on amphibians are currently unknown. Potential management options could include regular jet-washing of the underpasses, or alternatively, pre- or post-implementation modifications of mitigation designs should aim to minimise the pollution pathway from road surfaces.</jats:p>

Description

Peer reviewed: True


Acknowledgements: We thank the three reviewers for their comments and suggestions on the manuscript.

Keywords

road mitigation, urban pollutants, road runoff, trace metals, de-icing salts, Triturus cristatus

Journal Title

Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution

Conference Name

Journal ISSN

2296-701X
2296-701X

Volume Title

Publisher

Frontiers Media SA