Can road-crossing structures improve population viability of an urban gliding mammal?
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Tree-dwelling mammals are potentially highly vulnerable to discontinuities in habitat created by roads. We used population modeling to assess the viability of a metapopulation of Australia's largest gliding marsupial, the greater glider (Petauroides volans), occurring in forest remnants in the fastesturbanizing region of Australia, where habitat is dissected by major roads. Crossing structures for arboreal mammals (consisting of a land bridge with wooden poles for gliding and adjacent rope canopy bridges) have been installed over an arterial road that separates two of these remnants (one large, one small). It is currently unknown whether this species will use the crossing structures, but available tree height and spacing do not allow a glide crossing, and fences with metal flashing prevent access to the road by terrestrial and arboreal mammals. Our modeling reveals that even a relatively low rate of dispersal facilitated by these structures would substantially reduce the probability of extinction of the smaller subpopulation. This rate of dispersal is plausible given the small distance involved (about 55 m). The inclusion of wildfire as a catastrophe in our model suggests that these two remnants may encounter an undesirable level of extinction risk. This can be reduced to an acceptable level by including inter-patch movement via dispersal among other forest remnants. However, this requires connection to a very large remnant 8 km away, through a set of remnants that straddle two motorways. These motorways create discontinuities in forest cover that are beyond the gliding ability of this species. Crossing structures will be required to enable inter-patch movement. A priority for future research should be whether the greater glider will use road-crossing structures. Loss of habitat and habitat connections is continuing in this landscape and is likely to have dire consequences for wildlife if land managers are unable to retain appropriate habitat cover with corridors and install effective wildlife road-crossing structures where large roads intersect wildlife habitat.
Ecology and Society
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Ecological Applications not elsewhere classified