The Serengeti is one of the last remaining places on the planet where large-scale animal migrations still occur. Every year, nearly two million wildebeest, antelope and zebras traverse the plains from Tanzania to Kenya and back each. But these large-scale migrations are in danger: The Tanzanian government has proposed to build a highway that would bisect the northern portion of Serengeti National Park. In a study published in the January 25th PLoS ONE, scientists report that the effects of such a road are very likely to have adverse effects on ecosystem biodiversity, structure, and function in the Serengeti.
Under University of Guelph integrative biology professor John Fryxell, the scientists found that the proposed highway could cause a 35 percent reduction in wildebeest hears, as well as 'direct and indirect effects on many other species and ecosystem processes.' The proposed road could also cause car accidents, increased development or increased poaching. While the PLoS ONE study did not consider these, such likely effects of the new road could reduce herd numbers even further.
Science Daily summarizes the study, which found that the proposed highway could 'completely [disrupt] the migration':
The researchers used simulation models of wildebeest movement and population dynamics to predict the effects of the proposed highway, which could block the northern part of the migration route and access to water in the dry season.
Fryxell said that fragmenting the landscape disrupts movement patterns and the wildebeest's ability to track changes in forage resources across the landscape.
Last year, National Geographic highlighted Fryxell's work in its Great Migrations series. Says Fryxell in Science Daily:
This project has the potential to transform one of the greatest wonders in the world and one of the world's most iconic national parks.
And the transformation of the wildebeests' territory into asphalt is indeed one that more than a few of us would rather not see.