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Road verges provide connectivity for small mammals: A case study with wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) in an agro-silvo pastoral system

Galantinho, Ana, Herrera, José M., Eufrázio, Sofia, Silva, Carmo, Carvalho, Filipe, Alpizar-Jara, Russell, Mira, António
Journal of environmental management 2020 v.258 pp. 110033
Apodemus sylvaticus, biological corridors, case studies, cork, cutting, fire break, grazing, habitat connectivity, land management, landscapes, mark-recapture studies, mathematical theory, pastoralism, plowing, probability, roads, small mammals, vegetation structure, woodlands
Roads disrupt landscape connectivity for many terrestrial mammals. These infrastructures can be barriers to movement thereby threatening population persistence. Nonetheless, small mammals may use road verges as habitat or corridor, thus increasing migration across intensively managed landscapes. However, in well-preserved habitats where road verges show a similar vegetation structure to surrounding areas, their role is still unknown. Road verges would have an important role as fine-scale connectivity providers for small mammals in a well-preserved habitat depending on land management on road surroundings. We aimed to quantify the effects of road verges and paved lanes on the fine-scale landscape connectivity for the wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) in a well-preserved Mediterranean woodland. Additionally, we assessed the impact on connectivity of vegetation cutting on verges and of management in surrounding areas (i.e. firebreaks, grazing, ploughing and cork stripping). We quantified connectivity using graph theory based on two years of capture-recapture data. We compared a set of connectivity metrics (derived from the probability of connectivity index) in a road area and in a virtual roadless scenario. We found that the presence of the road reduced overall fine-scale landscape connectivity, acting as a partial barrier for wood mice movement. However, verges had a key role in promoting movement on road surroundings. Vegetation cutting on verges, and land ploughing in the surrounding landscape were the only management activities compromising connectivity. Our study supports the already known role of road verges as habitat corridors for small mammals. However, it goes beyond existing knowledge by quantifying the connectivity enhancement provided by road verges and demonstrating that this role is highly relevant even in well-preserved landscapes. Therefore, our findings emphasize the critical role of road verges and suggest important management options to enhance landscape connectivity for small mammals.