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Paulson, David

(M.S., W&FCON)

Project:

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Road Passage Structures for Freshwater Turtles in Massachusetts

Contact:

dpaulson@acad.umass.edu

Position:

Research Assistant
Department of Natural Resources Conservation
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Support:

MassHighway
U.S. Geological Survey
Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
Natural Heritage
Endangered Species Program

Faculty Advisor:

Paul R. Sievert 

Project abstract:

Turtles are possibly the most imperiled group of reptiles. Their life history strategies often require long migrations from hibernating sites to foraging and/or nesting areas. As their habitats become increasingly fragmented, these migrations often cross roadways, leading to the death of many adult turtles. As a long lived species, turtles have evolved a reproductive strategy that accommodates substantial mortality of eggs and juveniles. Removal of breeding-age adults, however, will rapidly drive a population to extinction. The goal of this research is to examine the effectiveness of road passage structures for freshwater turtles in Massachusetts. A successful turtle passage system requires fencing to divert turtles from the road surface to a suitably engineered tunnel through which they will pass under the road. Emphasis is placed on identifying cost-effective structures that will connect those habitats bisected by 2-and 4-lane highways. A series of experiments will ultimately determine the best tunnel design by evaluating fencing and passage dimensions with regard to their influence on the movement behavior of turtles. The first field season utilized 190 painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) and 31 spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata) to test the effectiveness of tunnel size and position. Passages were evaluated at an outdoor laboratory that allowed for rapid modification of structures to determine their influence on turtle behavior. The next two field seasons will evaluate tunnel length, tunnel openness, and fencing variables. The final season will use Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) and eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina) to determine the most effective passage structures.

Updated: August 5, 2010