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Movements of the flying squirrel Pteromys volans in corridors and in matrix habitat

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Elements of the landscape, such as patches of preferred habitat, matrix between patches, and corridors linking patches, differ as movement habitat for animals. To understand how landscape structure influences the movement and thus, population dynamics of animals, clear empirical knowledge on patterns of movement is needed. The Siberian flying squirrel inhabits spruce-dominated boreal forests from Finland to eastern Siberia. Numbers of flying squirrels have declined severely in Finland in past decades, probably due to modern forestry. We studied the movement of radio-collared adult flying squirrels in preferred (spruce forest) and in matrix habitat (open areas and other habitats with trees) in Finland 1997–2000, and determined whether the woodland strips connecting patches of preferred habitat could function as ecological corridors for flying squirrels.

Flying squirrels used woodland strips for inter-patch movements, but also used matrix with trees and were able to cross narrow open gaps. Males moved longer total distances and crossed edges more often than females. Males used matrix habitats for movement between spruce patches, and moved faster and more directly in the matrix than in the spruce forest. Females seldom changed spruce patches, but instead used the matrix for foraging. For both sexes probability of leaving the spruce forest patch correlated negatively with the size of the patch, but the type of connection the patch had to other patches did not affect the leaving probability. Due to efficient movement abilities of the flying squirrel and forest-dominated landscape structure of southern Finland, we suggest that conservation acts for maintaining viable populations of flying squirrels should focus on the quality of managed forest and the area of suitable breeding habitat (i.e. on habitat loss), but not necessarily on ecological corridors.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2003

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