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Habitat fragmentation: the daily wildlife obstacle course

Today’s post comes from Jess Matthews, a Natural Heritage Education Specialist at Rondeau Provincial Park.

Imagine your commute to work or school.

Now imagine that multiple mysterious obstacles are now in your way. Your standard commute changes from a leisurely drive, bike or walk to a series of tests that slow your progress and may even endanger your life!

This is what wildlife across the province face as they move to find resources, mates, and suitable habitat for their offspring.

What is habitat fragmentation?

highway through forestHabitat fragmentation is a broad term used to describe a situation where large patches of habitat are broken by human development, such as roads or buildings. The development literally breaks apart (fragments) the otherwise connected habitat.

For wildlife, life can be a huge obstacle course. Habitat fragmentation is just one of the sets of obstacles facing species of all kinds across Ontario.

Turtles

During the spring months, turtles are one of the most obvious species affected by habitat fragmentation.

snapper

Female turtles emerge from their wetland homes to find suitable nesting sites to lay their eggs. For many turtles, crossing roads is almost unavoidable when looking for the perfect nesting location. These slow-moving creatures’ defense strategy is: tuck-in-and-stay-still — no match for a moving vehicle.

Most of Ontario’s turtles are species at risk, and the high road mortality rate is a big threat to their survival.

What are we doing to help?

While our obstacle courses are likely not going to disappear any time soon, there are ways of minimizing the impacts of this kind of habitat fragmentation.

Many provincial parks, like Pinery and Killbear, are installing ecopassages in high-traffic areas. These tunnels under roadways allow wildlife to move freely through their habitat without ever touching the roads.

Ecopassage fencing
The fencing encourages small creatures — like turtles and snakes — to follow the road until they find the ecopassage.

Rondeau Provincial Park has gated a major roadway that runs right through the middle of the park, considerably reducing the impacts of vehicle traffic. Now wildlife need only contend with slower-moving foot, bike and rollerblade traffic.

rondeau roadway

There are efforts you can make too!

brake for wildlife signHelp us protect our parks:

  • slow down when driving
  • watch for wildlife on the road
  • stop and wait for wildlife to finish crossing
  • help wildlife cross (if safe for you) by encouraging them to cross in the direction they are facing
  • share this post on social media to spread the word!

On behalf of Ontario’s unique and diverse wildlife – thank you!