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Byron Shire
April 14, 2021
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Genetic evidence suggests landscape change has rapid impacts on wildlife
Landscape change, through the clearing and fragmenting of habitats, is a leading cause of biodiversity loss for our native animals. Yet the disruption to populations, in terms of time and distance, has been mostly unknown until now.
Researchers have found disruption can occur at three kilometres and within about 30 years of habitat separation (isolation).
“The results are startling,” said lead researcher and Southern Cross University mammal ecologist Dr Ross Goldingay.
The research team, involving Southern Cross University, Monash University and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, has published its findings, ‘Fine-scale genetic response to landscape change in a gliding mammal’ http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0080383, in the open access peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE.
Dr Goldingay said the team used sophisticated genetic techniques to examine how the squirrel glider, a small gliding marsupial, had responded to living in habitat patches in two highly fragmented landscapes in Queensland.
“One of the great strengths of our study is that it involved two landscapes; one around Brisbane and one around Mackay in North Queensland. When you get similar results for two areas that are 750km apart you have confidence you are seeing a general response,” said Dr Goldingay.
“Our sample locations showed high levels of genetic structure, meaning that gene flow had been severely disrupted,” said the molecular ecologist on the team, Monash University’s Dr Andrea Taylor.
“What we did not expect was that this disruption can occur over distances as little as three kilometres and within about 30 years of habitat separation (isolation).”
The cause: the loss of tree cover between habitat patches. The squirrel glider relies on tree cover to move around. Behavioural studies show that once canopy gaps exceed 50 metres, the ability of this species to move between habitats wa