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Large Gaps in Canopy Reduce Road Crossing by a Gliding Mammal

Rodney van der Ree, Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
Silvana Cesarini, Australian Centre for Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University
Paul Sunnucks, Australian Centre for Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University
Joslin L Moore, Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
Andrea Taylor, Australian Centre for Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University

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Abstract

Roads and traffic reduce landscape connectivity and increase rates of mortality for many species of wildlife. Species that glide from tree to tree may be strongly affected by roads and traffic if the size of the gap between trees exceeds their gliding capability. Not only are wide roads likely to reduce crossing rates, but mortality may also be increased if gliders that do cross have poor landing opportunities. The road-crossing behavior of 47 squirrel gliders (Petaurus norfolcensis) was investigated in southeast Australia using radio-tracking. The proportion of gliders crossing one or both roadways of a freeway where trees were present or absent from the center median was compared to that at single-lane country roads (control). The proportion of gliders crossing the road at control sites (77%) was similar to the proportion that crossed one or both roadways at the freeway with trees in the median (67%), whereas only a single male (6%) crossed the freeway where trees were absent from the median. The frequency of crossing for each individual was also similar at control sites and freeway sites with trees in the median. The almost complete lack of crossing at sites where trees were absent from the median was attributed to the wider gap in canopy (50 64 m vs. 5 13 m at sites with trees in the median). This suggests that traffic volume, up to 5,000 vehicles per day on each roadway, and the other characteristics of the freeway we studied are not in themselves complete deterrents to road crossing by squirrel gliders. This study demonstrates that retaining and facilitating the growth of tall trees in the center median of two-way roads may mitigate the barrier effect of roads on gliders, thus contributing positively to mobility and potentially to connectivity. This information will be essential for the assessment of road impacts on gliding species using population viability models.

Key words

barrier; canopy gap; freeway; gliders; mitigation; road crossing; radio-tracking; vegetated median
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087