Effects of landscape matrix on population connectivity of an arboreal mammal, Petaurus breviceps.
Ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation is considered a threat to biodiversity as it can create small, isolated populations that are at increased risk of extinction. Tree-dependent species are predicted to be highly sensitive to forest and woodland loss and fragmentation, but few studies have tested the influence of different types of landscape matrix on gene flow and population structure of arboreal species. Here, we examine the effects of landscape matrix on population structure of the sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) in a fragmented landscape in southeastern South Australia. We collected 250 individuals across 12 native Eucalyptus forest remnants surrounded by cleared agricultural land or exotic Pinus radiata plantations and a large continuous eucalypt forest. Fifteen microsatellite loci were genotyped and analyzed to infer levels of population differentiation and dispersal. Genetic differentiation among most forest patches was evident. We found evidence for female philopatry and restricted dispersal distances for females relative to males, suggesting there is male-biased dispersal. Among the environmental variables, spatial variables including geographic location, minimum distance to neighboring patch, and degree of isolation were the most important in explaining genetic variation. The permeability of a cleared agricultural matrix to dispersing gliders was significantly higher than that of a pine matrix, with the gliders dispersing shorter distances across the latter. Our results added to previous findings for other species of restricted dispersal and connectivity due to habitat fragmentation in the same region, providing valuable information for the development of strategies to improve the connectivity of populations in the future.