Most people who come across road kill don't see it as a data source -- but one environmental science professor is finding that there's a lot to learn from dead creatures on our roads and highways.

To track road kill data, Danielle Garneau, an assistant professor of environmental science at Plattsburgh State University of New York, developed a project on EpiCollect, a London-based open source data collection website. The project, called RoadkillGarneau, can be accessed by anyone, but its main purpose is for Garneau and her students to log information about the creatures they come across. 

When Garneau and her students encounter road kill, they use the free EpiCollect app on their smartphones or other mobile devices to log details about the road kill, such as when and where the animal was found, the time of day and type of weather, and the type of traffic along the route where the animal was found, Garneau said. Using the app's embedded camera, they take a picture of the animal to include with the entry. 

The information is then synced with the RoadkillGarneau project website, which gives a more comprehensive look at possible animal migration patterns in specific regions.

“I’ve always been curious about road kill. We pass it all the time; you’ve seen it since you were little,” Garneau said. “The goal would be that we’d be able to pick up some patterns, some seasonal patterns of migration of a lot of the animals.”

So far, Garneau’s project shows data entries on road kill from New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Vermont and other states, and includes a range of animal types like frogs, skunks, opossum and deer. She said the project partly focuses on tracking Virginia opossum road kill, and information gathered so far has indicated what habitats they are associated with and if temperature plays a role in their activity.

Mapping the Data

The RoadkillGarneau project on EpiCollect shows data entries from the East Coast down to Florida and as west as Colorado. Click the image to view the interactive map.

In addition to viewing the data in list format, EpiCollect plots the data entries on a Google map. For RoadkillGarneau, the map pinpoints the locations where the road kill was found. For more concentrated pieces of data, the mapping page also utilizes a data filtering feature. After specifying which data the user wants to view, EpiCollect generates that data into graphs, which appear next to the map.

According to EpiCollect, when data is collected from the smartphone app version, the data is stored on the phone’s internal database until synced to a project’s central website. For projects created on EpiCollect like RoadkillGarneau and others, the data is stored on Google’s AppEngine, a free and open data-storing repository.

As Garneau’s project expands, she hopes other universities and individuals participate by downloading the EpiCollect app (available for Android and iPhone) and tracking road kill data across the country. “We all can play a role, and over the long term and across the country, if enough of us are doing it, we actually have a really great data set.”

Garneau isn't the first to track such information -- state agencies such as the Idaho Department of Fish and Game utilize ArcGIS Server REST to track road kill reported in the state. And before developing her project on EpiCollect, Garneau tasked several of her students with gathering road kill data by using a GIS unit and mapping software to plot the locations of road kill findings. But EpiCollect simplifies the whole process. 

“It’s kind of neat because it’s an all in one,” Garneau said. “Within two minutes, you can stop on the side of the road and you can have inputted data that could be shared with everybody who’s participating.” 

Garneau also has an app for the more squeamish: The WildlifeBlitzGarneau project on EpiCollect is for those who want to share data from their live animal sightings.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer
Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.