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Snakes on a Lane: Predicting Road Mortality for Snakes in Southeastern Ohio

Roads cover about 1% of the land in the US and have significant and negative impacts for wildlife populations. Due to their slow movements, tendency to freeze in place when threatened, use of roads for thermoregulation, and low road avoidance, snakes are among the most susceptible vertebrates to road mortality. Rosen & Lowe (1994) suggest that tens to hundreds of millions of snakes have been killed by vehicles in the US. From 2003-2018 (15 years), Dr. Carl Brune has been opportunistically collecting road mortality data on snakes in southeastern Ohio (I have assisted since 2017). With the help of my undergraduate advisor, Dr. Viorel Popescu, we used logistic regressions to predict roadkill hotspots and determine covariates that may contribute to road mortality.  

 

Black Ratsnakes (Pantherophis spiloides), Northern Black Racers (Coluber constrictor), Eastern Gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis), and Rough Greensnakes (Opheodrys aestivus) were the most frequently encountered among the 14 snake species we recorded dead on roads. Our findings showed that high-speed, high-traffic roads pose a major risk to snake populations, but that mortality also occurs on low-traffic roads. Our top model suggests that edge habitat contributes to snake road mortality. The wide distribution of mortality in our results suggests localized conservation efforts such as underpasses or fences may not be practical for mitigating snake road mortality. Providing snakes with suitable edge habitat away from roads could help to mitigate the high risks of mortality in this microhabitat.

Institution: Ohio University 

Co-Authors: Ryan Wagner, Carl Brune, Viorel Popescu

Publication

Wagner, R. B., Brune, C. R., & Popescu, V. D. (2021). Snakes on a lane: Road type and edge habitat predict hotspots of snake road mortality. Journal for Nature Conservation, 61, 125978.