Mitigation measures to reduce highway mortality of turtles and other herpetofauna at a north Florida lake

  • Aresco M
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Abstract

Roads built through or near wetlands cause significant mortality of reptiles and amphibians and create barriers to migration and dispersal. I investigated the number of times turtles and other herpetofauna attempted to cross a 4-lane highway at Lake Jackson, Florida, USA, during a period of severe drought (Feb-Apr 2000). Levels of road mortality were so high that I designed and installed a temporary drift fence system to work with an existing drainage culvert and for the next 2.5 years I evaluated its effectiveness at reducing road mortality and facilitating migration. I monitored roads and fences several times per day for 44 months, during both drought and non-drought conditions. A total of 10,229 reptiles and amphibians of 44 species were found either road killed or alive behind drift fences: 8,842 turtles, 838 frogs, 363 snakes, 152 lizards, 32 alligators, and 2 salamanders. Drift fences combined with intensive monitoring greatly reduced turtle road kills and facilitated the use of an under-highway culvert. Along a 0.7-km section of the highway, turtle mortality before installation of the fence (11.9/km/day) was significantly greater than post-fence mortality (0.09/km/day) and only 84 of 8,475 turtles climbed or penetrated the drift fences. Pre-fence data provided strong evidence that turtles cannot successfully cross all 4 lanes of U.S. Highway 27, as 95% of 343 turtles were killed as they first entered the highway adjacent to the shoulder and the remaining 5% were killed in the first two traffic lanes. According to a probability model, the likelihood of a turtle successfully crossing U.S. Highway 27 decreased from 32% in 1977 to only 2% in 2001 due to a 162% increase in traffic volume. Therefore, at least 98% of turtles diverted by the fences probably would have been killed if fences were not in place. The results of this study represent the highest attempted road-crossing rate ever published for turtles (1,263/km/year). Because of demographic and life history constraints, turtle populations may incur irreversible declines in areas where road mortality is high, especially when mass migrations are triggered by periods of drought.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Florida
  • culvert
  • drift fence
  • drought
  • herpetofau

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Authors

  • M J Aresco

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