Inter-individual variability of stone marten behavioral responses to a highway

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Abstract

Efforts to reduce the negative impacts of roads on wildlife may be hindered if individuals within the population vary widely in their responses to roads and mitigation strategies ignore this variability. This knowledge is particularly important for medium-sized carnivores as they are vulnerable to road mortality, while also known to use available road passages (e.g., drainage culverts) for safely crossing highways. Our goal in this study was to assess whether this apparently contradictory pattern of high road-kill numbers associated with a regular use of road passages is attributable to the variation in behavioral responses toward the highway between individuals. We investigated the responses of seven radio-tracked stone martens (Martes foina) to a highway by measuring their utilization distribution, response turning angles and highway crossing patterns. We compared the observed responses to simulated movement parameterized by the observed space use and movement characteristics of each individual, but naïve to the presence of the highway. Our results suggested that martens demonstrate a diversity of responses to the highway, including attraction, indifference, or avoidance. Martens also varied in their highway crossing patterns, with some crossing repeatedly at the same location (often coincident with highway passages). We suspect that the response variability derives from the individual's familiarity of the landscape, including their awareness of highway passage locations. Because of these variable yet potentially attributable responses, we support the use of exclusionary fencing to guide transient (e.g., dispersers) individuals to existing passages to reduce the road-kill risk. © 2014 Ascensão et al.

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Ascensão, F., Grilo, C., LaPoint, S., Tracey, J., Clevenger, A. P., & Santos-Reis, M. (2014). Inter-individual variability of stone marten behavioral responses to a highway. PLoS ONE, 9(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0103544

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