An experimental evaluation of potential scavenger effects on snake road mortality detections
Kaylan A. Hubbard
Anna D. Chalfoun
Tags: Herpetological Conservation and Biology
As road networks expand and collisions between vehicles and wildlife become more common, accurately quantifying mortality rates for the taxa that are most impacted will be critical. Snakes are especially vulnerable to collisions with vehicles because of their physiology and behavior. Reptile road mortality is typically quantified using driving or walking surveys; however, scavengers can rapidly remove carcasses from the road and cause underestimation of mortality. Our objective was to determine the effect that scavengers might have had on our ability to accurately detect reptile road mortality during over 150 h and 4,000 km of driving surveys through arid shrublands in southwest Wyoming, which resulted in only two observations of mortality. We developed unique simulated snake carcasses out of Burbot (Lota lota), a locally invasive fish species, and examined removal rates across three different road types at three study sites. Carcass size was not a significant predictor of time of removal, and carcass removal was comparable during the daytime and nighttime hours. However, removal of simulated carcasses was higher on paved roads than unpaved or two-track roads at all study sites, with an average of 75% of the carcasses missing within 60 h compared to 34% and 31%, respectively. Scavengers may therefore negatively impact the ability of researchers to accurately detect herpetofaunal road mortality, especially for paved roads where road mortality is likely the most prevalent.