, Volume 4, Issue 2-3, pp 109-122

Habitat corridors and the conservation of small mammals in a fragmented forest environment

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Abstract

At Naringal in south-western Victoria, Australia, clearing of the original forest environment has created an agricultural landscape dominated by grazed pastures of introduced grasses. Remnant forest vegetation is re-stricted to small patches of less than 100 ha in size, that are loosely linked by narrow forested strips along road reserves and creeks. Six native and two introduced species of small terrestrial mammal (< 2 kg) occur within this environment. The native mammals, being dependent upon forest vegetation, were less tolerant to forest fragmentation than were the introduced species that also persist in farmland and farm buildings. The native mammals displayed an increasing frequency of occurrence in successively larger size-classes of forest patches. Those species with the greatest body-weight were the most vulnerable to habitat loss. All species of small mammal occurred in narrow habitat corridors of forest vegetation on roadsides. The resident status, seasonal variation in relative abundance, patterns of reproduction, and movements of each species were monitored in two habitat corridors during a 25-month trapping study. The corridors were found to facilitate continuity between otherwise-isolated populations of small mammals in this locality in two ways: firstly, by providing a pathway for the dispersal of single animals between patches; and secondly, by enabling gene flow through populations resident within the corridors. The small size of forest remnants at Naringal, and the vulnerability of species with low population sizes, emphasize the importance of preserving a mosaic of numerous habitat patches that together will support regional populations of sufficient size for longer-term persistence. The continuity between remnant habitats that is provided by a network of habitat corridors is an essential, and critical, component of this conservation strategy.