Millions of dollars are spent on wildlife crossing structures intended to reduce the barrier effects of roads on wildlife. However, we know little about the degree to which these structures facilitate dispersal and gene flow.
Our study incorporates two elements that are rarely used in the evaluation of wildlife crossing structures: an experimental design including a before and after comparison, and the use of genetic techniques to demonstrate effects on gene flow at both population and individual levels. We evaluated the effect of wildlife crossing structures (canopy bridges and glider poles) on a gliding mammal, the squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis). We genotyped 399 individuals at eight microsatellite markers to analyse population structure, first-generation migrants and parentage relationships.
We found that the freeway was not a complete genetic barrier, with a strong effect evident at only one site. We hypothesise that the presence of corridors alongside the freeway and throughout the surrounding landscape facilitated circuitous detours for squirrel gliders.
Installing a crossing structure at the location with a strong barrier effect restored gene flow within just 5 years of mitigation.
Synthesis and applications. Our study highlights the importance of using genetic techniques not just to evaluate the success of road-crossing structures for wildlife, but also to guide their placement within the landscape. Managers wishing to reduce the effects of linear infrastructure on squirrel gliders and other arboreal mammals should aim to preserve and enhance vegetation along roadsides and within centre medians, as well as mitigate large gaps by implementing wildlife crossing structures.
- canopy bridge
- gene flow
- glider pole
- gliding mammals
- road ecology
- road mitigation
- vegetated median
- wildlife crossing structure