, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 277-287
Date: 20 Nov 2010

Living on the verge: are roads a more suitable refuge for small mammals than streams in Mediterranean pastureland?

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Abstract

The retention of natural habitat corridors is a useful and practical conservation tool that can attenuate the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation on wildlife. Linear structures may contribute to the conservation of biodiversity by providing additional habitats for small fauna living in highly modified environments. We assessed the importance of road verges as refuge areas for small mammals, in highly intensified grazed pastures, within a Mediterranean landscape and compared the role of road verges as refuges with that of riparian galleries, which have been described as important shelter locations for small fauna. For this purpose, a small mammal trapping study was undertaken on two road verges and beside two small streams in southern Portugal. We captured 457 individuals of five different species, with Mus spretus the most common species captured, followed by Crocidura russula. Captures were 4.6-fold higher immediately beside both roads and streams than 12 m away in the surrounding matrix. Individuals captured in the matrix presented a smaller body size and lower body condition, suggesting that this suboptimal habitat is occupied mainly by subadults. M. spretus was 46% more abundant by roads than by streams, while C. russula was present in similar numbers in both habitats. M. spretus individuals were larger near streams but exhibited no difference in body condition between habitats. C. russula had a better body condition and slightly higher body lengths at roadsides. Our results show that roadside verges in intensively grazed Mediterranean landscapes act as important refuges and constitute equally vital habitats for small mammals as do riparian vegetation strips in landscapes where other suitable habitats are scarce.