The negative effects of roads on wildlife have been well studied, and their mitigation is considered of critical importance to conservation. Mitigation of these threats commonly incorporates exclusion fencing and landscape connectivity structures, but the mechanics of mitigation success and species-specific responses are poorly understood. Eastern Gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) are an ubiquitous species and frequently victims of road mortality, so we conducted a “willingness to utilize” (WTU) experiment to understand snake behavior when interacting with ecopassages. Snakes were exposed to newly installed ecopassages at Presqu'ile Provincial Park (10 m long × 0.5 m wide × 0.32 m tall). Naïve snakes and snakes with ecopassage experience were introduced to one of two arena options: 1) a completely closed-in arena, only allowing snakes to enter the ecopassage, or 2) a similar arena with two exits allowing snakes to bypass the ecopassage, more reflective of a real-life scenario. All snakes entered the ecopassage when given no other option. When given options to bypass the ecopassage, at least 59% of snakes still chose to enter the ecopassage, regardless of trial design or prior ecopassage experience, suggesting that in general, there is neither aversion nor attraction to ecopassages. Most snakes made their choice within 30 sec and neither temperature nor traffic affected crossing duration; however, experienced snakes crossed the ecopassage faster than naïve snakes. This study shows the use of a common mitigation structure by a widespread species and supports how these mitigation efforts are ultimately increasing our ability to successfully mitigate negative road-effects.
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Vol. 54 • No. 1