Mitigating reptile road mortality: fence failures compromise ecopassage effectiveness

James H. Baxter-Gilbert, Julia L. Riley, David Lesbarrères, Jacqueline D. Litzgus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Roadways pose serious threats to animal populations. The installation of roadway mitigation measures is becoming increasingly common, yet studies that rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of these conservation tools remain rare. A highway expansion project in Ontario, Canada included exclusion fencing and ecopassages as mitigation measures designed to offset detrimental effects to one of the most imperial groups of vertebrates, reptiles. Taking a multispecies approach, we used a Before-After-Control-Impact study design to compare reptile abundance on the highway before and after mitigation at an Impact site and a Control site from 1 May to 31 August in 2012 and 2013. During this time, radio telemetry, wildlife cameras, and an automated PIT-tag reading system were used to monitor reptile movements and use of ecopassages. Additionally, a willingness to utilize experiment was conducted to quantify turtle behavioral responses to ecopassages. We found no difference in abundance of turtles on the road between the un-mitigated and mitigated highways, and an increase in the percentage of both snakes and turtles detected dead on the road post-mitigation, suggesting that the fencing was not effective. Although ecopassages were used by reptiles, the number of crossings through ecopassages was lower than road-surface crossings. Furthermore, turtle willingness to use ecopassages was lower than that reported in previous arena studies, suggesting that effectiveness of ecopassages may be compromised when alternative crossing options are available (e.g., through holes in exclusion structures). Our rigorous evaluation of reptile roadway mitigation demonstrated that when exclusion structures fail, the effectiveness of population connectivity structures is compromised. Our project emphasizes the need to design mitigation measures with the biology and behavior of the target species in mind, to implement mitigation designs in a rigorous fashion, and quantitatively evaluate road mitigation to ensure allow for adaptive management and optimization of these increasingly important conservation tools.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0120537
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume10
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2015. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

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