Informing Wildlife Corridor Creation through Population Genetics of an Arboreal Marsupial in a Fragmented Landscape

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Habitat loss and fragmentation contribute significantly to the decline of arboreal mammal populations. As populations become fragmented and isolated, a reduction in gene flow can result in a loss of genetic diversity and have an overall impact upon long-term persistence. Creating wildlife corridors can mitigate such effects by increasing the movement and dispersal of animals, thus acting to reduce population isolation. To evaluate the success of a corridor, a before–after experimental research framework can be used. Here, we report the genetic diversity and structure of sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) sampling locations within a fragmented landscape prior to the implementation of a wildlife corridor. This study used 5999 genome-wide SNPs from 94 sugar gliders caught from 8 locations in a fragmented landscape in south-eastern New South Wales, Australia. Overall genetic structure was limited, and gene flow was detected across the landscape. Our findings indicate that the study area contains one large population. A major highway dissecting the landscape did not act as a significant barrier to dispersal, though this may be because of its relatively new presence in the landscape (completed in 2018). Future studies may yet indicate its long-term impact as a barrier to gene flow. Future work should aim to repeat the methods of this study to examine the medium-to-long-term impacts of the wildlife corridor on sugar gliders, as well as examine the genetic structure of other native, specialist species in the landscape.

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NSW Environmental Trust



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