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Georgia Journal of Science

Article Title

REEVALUATING THE IMPACT OF RAILWAYS ON WILDLIFE CONSERVATION**

Abstract

Railroad ecology is an extremely understudied discipline characterized by a general paucity of data. The few available previous studies consider railroads to be threats to conservation because they potentially fragment habitats, act as barriers to movement, and increase mortality. However, because railways and the areas immediately adjacent are rarely altered, they may function as persistent linear corridors of habitat in human-dominated landscapes characterized by frequent modification and development activities. If, in addition to serving as suitable habitat for wildlife, these corridors facilitate movement within and across landscapes, they may have ecological benefits that outweigh their costs. Because many mesocarnivore species are wide ranging, sensitive to landscape changes and anthropogenic activity, and ecologically important, we hypothesize that railroads may benefit this wildlife guild. To better understand the influence of railroads on mesocarnivores in northeastern Georgia, we initiated a camera-trap survey in forested areas associated with railways. Our primary objective was to document the seasonal use of these areas by mesocarnivores, contributing to the dearth of data associated with railways in the southeastern United States. Although preliminary, we have found no evidence that mesocarnivores avoid forests adjacent to railroads, as results thus far indicate that a variety of these species use the sampled areas. These results suggest that forested areas adjacent to railroads benefit local wildlife, and therefore, have conservation value. Data collection is ongoing in an effort to provide more insight into the ways in which the mesocarnivore community in Georgia utilizes the corridors created by railroads.

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