Badger territoriality maintained despite disturbance of major road construction

Road ecology has traditionally focused on the impact of in-situ and functional roads on wildlife. However, road construction also poses a major, yet understudied, threat and the implications for key aspects of animal behaviour are unknown. Badgers (Meles meles) have been implicated in the transmission of tuberculosis to cattle. There are concerns that environmental disturbances, including major road construction, can disrupt badger territoriality, promoting the spread of the disease to cattle. To address these knowledge gaps the ranging behaviour of a medium-density Irish badger population was monitored using GPS-tracking collars before, during, and after a major road realignment project that bisected the study area. We estimated badgers’ home range sizes, nightly distances travelled, and the distance and frequency of extra-territorial excursions during each phase of the study and quantified any changes to these parameters. We show that road construction had a very limited effect on ranging behaviour. A small increase in nightly distance during road construction did not translate into an increase in home range size, nor an increase in the distance or frequency of extra-territorial excursions during road construction. In addition, suitable mitigation measures to prevent badger deaths appeared to ensure that normal patterns of ranging behaviour continued once the new road was in place. We recommend that continuous badger- proof fencing be placed along the entire length of new major roads, in combination with appropriately sited underpasses. Our analysis supports the view that road construction did not cause badgers to change their ranging behaviour in ways likely to increase the spread of tuberculosis.
Publication history: Accepted - 19 August 2021; Published - 3 September 2021.
Gaughran, A., Mullen, E., MacWhite, T., Maher, P., Kelly, D. J., Kelly, R., Good, M. and Marples, N. M. (2021) ‘Badger territoriality maintained despite disturbance of major road construction’, PLOS ONE. Edited by B.-S. Yue, 16(9), p. e0242586. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0242586.