Road barrier effect is among the foremost negative impacts of roads on wildlife. Knowledge of the factors responsible for the road barrier effect is crucial to understand and predict species’ responses to roads, and to improve mitigation measures in the context of management and conservation. We built a set of hypothesis aiming to infer the most probable cause of road barrier effect (traffic effect or road surface avoidance), while controlling for the potentially confounding effects road width, traffic volume and road age. The wood mouse Apodemus sylvaticus was used as a model species of small and forest-dwelling mammals, which are more likely to be affected by gaps in cover such as those resulting from road construction. We confront genetic patterns from opposite and same roadsides from samples of three highways and used computer simulations to infer migration rates between opposite roadsides. Genetic patterns from 302 samples (ca. 100 per highway) suggest that the highway barrier effect for wood mouse is due to road surface avoidance. However, from the simulations we estimated a migration rate of about 5% between opposite roadsides, indicating that some limited gene flow across highways does occur. To reduce highway impact on population genetic diversity and structure, possible mitigation measures could include retrofitting of culverts and underpasses to increase their attractiveness and facilitate their use by wood mice and other species, and setting aside roadside strips without vegetation removal to facilitate establishment and dispersal of small mammals.
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