Demographic effects of road mortality in black ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta)

Jeffrey R. Row, Gabriel Blouin-Demers, Patrick J. Weatherhead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Roads negatively affect animal populations by presenting barriers to movement and gene flow and by causing mortality. We investigated the impact of a secondary road on a population of black ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta) in Ontario, Canada by radio-tracking 105 individuals over 8 years. The road was not a significant barrier to movement and none of the reproductive classes examined (male, non-reproductive female, reproductive female) avoided crossing the road. However, the road was a significant source of mortality. From a total of 115 road crossings by radio-implanted snakes, 3 individuals were killed by cars, resulting in a mortality rate of 0.026 deaths per crossing. We multiplied this mortality rate by the total number of expected road crossings by all individuals in the population in an active season (340) to estimate the number of road kills (9 individuals) each year. This estimate was higher than the actual number of road kills found, but half the number estimated from road kill models. Population viability analysis revealed that our estimate of road mortality was enough to increase the extinction probability for this population from 7.3% to 99% over 500 years. Road mortality of more than 3 adult females per year increased the extinction probability to >90%. Our results strengthen the view that road mortality can have a pronounced negative effect on populations of long-lived species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-124
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2007


  • Ontario
  • Population viability analysis
  • Reptile
  • Road avoidance
  • Road mortality rate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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