Only 10% of greater glider habitat in Queensland is located in conservation areas, leaving the majority vulnerable to threats such as land clearing, forestry and development.
The endangered southern and central greater glider (Petauroides volans) is Australia’s largest gliding possum.
The species is protected under state and federal environmental laws and relies on mature native forest, particularly tree hollows for its survival.
But mapping by Griffith University researchers shows most potential glider habitat in Queensland is located on freehold (29%) or leasehold (42%) land.
Researchers analysed high-quality habitat and corridors for the greater glider, based on forest maturity and canopy cover, alongside land tenure drawing on satellite data such as Landsat for forest cover, GEDI for forest height and GlobBiomass for density and biomass.
Their findings are published in Pacific Conservation Biology.
The spatial analysis draws attention to the precarious nature of glider habitat, with only 10% located in conservation areas.
Public forest (16%) – which can still be logged – and other crown land (2%) made up the remaining habitat.
The researchers also considered connections between habitat areas, identifying 88 crucial corridors for the species.
Those corridors were also spread across freehold (27%), leasehold (47%), public forest (14%), conservation areas (10%) and other crown lands (3%).
The paper explains deforestation in Queensland remains at high levels, with more than 680,000 hectares of forest cleared in 2018-19.
Author Dr Patrick Norman tells Cosmos those connections are “really important”. While the species can persist in smaller forest patches, habitat connections and corridors enable movement which helps maintain their genetic stock (for example, reducing in-breeding).
He adds that greater gliders don’t like going across unforested areas, they require canopy cover to move.
“So it’s really important to ensure that those connections of forest habitat naturally persist throughout the species range, so they can move around and ensure that the populations can be maintained,” he says.
The paper says: “It is important that government agencies and land managers comprehensively assess the impacts of extractive industries on the distribution and spatial configuration of those habitat resources that are critical for threatened species.”
Norman says governments could take action to support the greater glider’s survival by transferring some government lands (such as public forest) to conservation areas. The research shows targeted areas where doing so would produce the most benefit, as well as gaps in habitat connectivity.
Norman says protecting mature trees would provide benefits for many species beyond the greater glider, given more than 300 vertebrate species in Australia utilise tree hollows.