Genetic consequences of forest fragmentation by agricultural land in an arboreal marsupial

Melanie Lancaster, Steven Cooper, Susan Mary Carthew

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    Context: Increasing demands on land for agriculture have resulted in large-scale clearance and fragmentation of forests globally. In fragmented landscapes, species that tolerate or exploit the matrix will persist, while those that do not, frequently decline. Knowledge of matrix use is therefore critical to predicting extinction proneness of species in modified landscapes and defining the value of land for conservation management.

    Objectives: In a fragmented landscape consisting of seven remnant patches surrounded by agricultural land and a large Eucalyptus forest, we explored (i) population connectivity of common ringtail possums, Pseudocheirus peregrinus, to determine the permeability of the agricultural matrix, and (ii) genetic consequences of forest fragmentation.

    Methods: 238 common ringtail possums were screened at 14 microsatellite markers and analysed using a range of genetic techniques. Results: We observed significant genetic differentiation among all patches and limited dispersal through the agricultural matrix, even between neighbouring patches. Consequences of this were a six- to ten-fold increase in genetic dissimilarity over an equivalent geographic distance across patches compared with sites in the continuous forest and a significant reduction in genetic diversity, particularly in patches that were geographically more isolated from their neighbours.

    Conclusions: We conclude that the agricultural matrix has a number of characteristics that make it unsuitable for facilitating movement of possums through this landscape, and recommend several management strategies to mitigate the impacts of fragmentation on this and other arboreal species for their conservation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)655-667
    Number of pages13
    JournalLandscape Ecology
    Volume31
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

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