The province of Ontario has the highest density of roads of any location in Canada. This news is great if you’re a driver, but not so if you are a turtle.
While humans move efficiently back and forth across this landscape, other creatures, including several turtle species, are at risk by this crowded network of pavement, especially when the roads separate them from part of their natural habitat.
One Brock researcher has partnered with conservation groups across Ontario to help alleviate the problem.
John Middleton, associate professor with the Department of Tourism and Environment, has received a grant from the Ministry of Transportation, under its Highway Infrastructure Innovation Funding Program (HIIFP). He’ll apply lessons learned from the use of turtle crossing signs on municipal roads to the potential use of wildlife area awareness signs on provincial roads.
Middleton is principal investigator on the project. The work will be conducted in close collaboration with co-principal investigator Kari Gunson, from Eco-Kare International; Fred Schuler, from Bishop Mills Natural History Centre; and the Ontario Road Ecology Group (OREG).
Middleton will examine the way in which roadways deal with populations of turtles. Five species in Ontario are considered to be at risk, he said.
“Turtles need to move across the landscape to live, to eat and to reproduce. Where they live is a different place from where they lay eggs,” Middleton explained. “Figures show there are huge numbers of turtles being killed crossing roads. A disproportionate number are females because they are the ones moving to lay eggs.”
This project will determine whether the placement of warning signs can alleviate some of the deaths by studying how and where the signs are being placed by ecology groups and municipalities across the province. The project involves mapping current sign locations, and questioning the circumstances in which the signs have been placed. Answers to these questions will guide future Ministry of Transportation policy around sign placement, and may even lead to new approaches in road construction.
There are an estimated 700 turtle signs on municipal roads across the province, but they have not been collated into one database. With the inventory in place, the project will also use a geographical model to predict hotspots of crossings for turtles, snakes and frogs, and determine if the predicted hotspots are the actual locations of the warning signs. Hotspots are determined most obviously by reports of turtle road-kill and turtle crossing locations.
OREG has a network of volunteers and workers who track the information through an online database. A recent interactive website tool allows anyone to report this information as well. OREG is run as an affiliated group through the conservation side of the Toronto Zoo.
The purpose of the MTO’s grant program is to fund research at Ontario colleges and universities to encourage basic and applied research in various aspects of transportation infrastructure.