Context . Reducing road mortality is essential to reptile conservation in regions with dense road networks. The Georgian Bay, Ontario population of the eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus) is designated as Threatened, in part because of high road mortality. In Killbear Provincial Park, four ecopassages and barrier fencing were constructed along three busy park roads to reduce road mortality of massasaugas.
Aim . Although mitigation of road mortality has been widely recommended and in some instances implemented for reptiles, effectiveness of mitigation efforts is often inadequately evaluated. The goals of our study were to use long-term data to quantify the effectiveness of ecopassages and barrier fencing in reducing massasauga fatalities on roads, and to evaluate the potential of these structures to serve as movement corridors for individual snakes.
Methods . We used five approaches to assess the overall efficacy of mitigation efforts: (1) comparison of pre- and post-mitigation road mortality; (2) camera traps in ecopassages to document massasauga and predator presence; (3) automated tag readers in ecopassage entrances to detect PIT-tagged individuals; (4) an experiment to assess massasauga willingness to enter and travel through ecopassages; and (5) measurement of temperature fluctuations in ecopassages to assess thermal suitability for massasaugas.
Key results . We found a significant decrease in road mortality of massasaugas on stretches of park roads associated with ecopassages and barrier fencing post construction. Automated tag readers and cameras detected the presence of massasaugas and other animals within the ecopassages, and experimental data showed that massasaugas willingly entered, and in some cases crossed through, ecopassages.
Conclusion . Our evaluation of mitigation structures determined that they successfully reduce road mortality and provide potential movement corridors between bisected habitats, provided that intense maintenance of the fencing is conducted yearly. We also demonstrated the need to utilise a combination of multiple post-monitoring methods to effectively evaluate mitigation structures.
Implications . This study provides a template for construction of similar mitigation in other key locations where reptile road mortality occurs.