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Behavioral Responses of Northern Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens) to Roads and Traffic: Implications for Population Persistence

Julie Bouchard, Geomatics and Landscape Ecology Research Lab, Department of Biology, Carleton University
Adam T. Ford, Geomatics and Landscape Ecology Research Lab, Department of Biology, Carleton University
Felix E Eigenbrod, Geomatics and Landscape Ecology Research Lab, Department of Biology, Carleton University
Lenore Fahrig, Geomatics and Landscape Ecology Research Lab, Department of Biology, Carleton University

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Abstract

A key goal in road ecology is to determine which species are most vulnerable to the negative effects of roads on population persistence. Theory suggests that species that avoid roads are less likely to be negatively affected by roads than those that do not avoid roads. The goal of this study was to take a step toward testing this prediction by evaluating the behavioral response to roads and traffic of a species whose populations are known to be negatively affected by roads and traffic, the northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens). We studied the movement patterns of northern leopard frogs during their spring migration from overwintering sites in a river to various breeding ponds that were disconnected from the river by roads. We performed short-distance translocations of migrating frogs, followed them visually, and documented their movement coordinates following each hop, both near the roads and in non-roaded areas. We found that frogs took longer to move near roads with more traffic and that their movement was quickest in areas without roads nearby. Frogs tended to deviate more from a straight-line course when they were released near roads than compared with control areas, but this response was independent of traffic volume. All frogs released near roads attempted to cross the road. On very low traffic roads (10.86 mean vehicles per hour), 94% of frogs crossed the road successfully, whereas at higher traffic roads (58.29 mean vehicles per hour) 72% were successful. Our results suggest that frog’s inability to avoid going onto roads and their slow movement combine to make them particularly vulnerable to road mortality, which likely explains the strong negative effects of roads on frog population abundance. Conservation efforts should focus on preventing frogs from accessing the road surface through the use of drift fencing and culverts.

Key words

breeding dispersal; habitat fragmentation; highway; migration; movement; road avoidance; road mortality
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087