Roads can affect the persistence of wildlife populations, through posing mortality risks and acting as barriers. In many countries, transportation agencies attempt to counterbalance these negative impacts. Road mortality is a major threat for European wildcats (Felis silvestris); therefore, we tested the effectiveness of a newly developed wildcat-specific fence in preventing wildcat mortality along a new motorway. We hypothesized that such a fenced motorway would at the same time be a significant barrier to wildcats and may at worst result in 2 isolated populations. We used radiotracking data of 12 wildcats, resulting in 13,000 fixes, to investigate individual movement behavior during and after construction of a new motorway in southwestern Germany. The motorway was fenced with the wildcat-specific fence and included crossing structures, not especially constructed for wildlife. Additionally we collected road kills on stretches of the same motorway with various types of fencing. A rate of 0.4 wildcat kills/km/year on the motorway, which was traveled by 10,000 vehicles/day and fenced with a regular wildlife fence, was reduced by 83% on stretches with wildcat-specific fencing. Of the available crossing structures, wildcats preferred open-span viaducts. Road underpasses were used but hold a mortality risk themselves. As opposed to our expectations, the fenced motorway (fenced with wildcat fence) posed only a moderate barrier to wildcats. Individuals were hindered in their daily routine and some stopped crossing completely but others continued crossing regularly. The adaptation of spatial and temporal behavior to traffic volume and location of crossing structures has an energetic cost. Hence, we suggest that only a small number of major roads can be tolerated within a wildcat's home range. To meet the demands of the European Habitats Directive, we recommend installing the wildcat fence in wildcat core areas along motorways to reduce wildcat mortality. We suggest that fences should incorporate safe crossing structures every 1.5–2.5 km. Our findings in terms of fencing design and crossing structures can be used by transportation agencies for an effective reduction of road mortality and barrier effect for carnivores.
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Vol. 73 • No. 5