Carnivore persistence and connectivity in the dry forest of northern Peru and southern Ecuador
Currently, more than a third of the global forest cover has been lost because of deforestation and land cover change, leaving only about 7.5% of global protected areas connected. This pervasive habitat loss has contributed to the isolation of protected areas and forest patches which exacerbates the extinction risk of endangered populations.
The groups most affected by patch isolation are apex predators and other large vertebrates. Species within the order Carnivora increase their extinction risk after habitat loss and patch isolation because of their large spatial needs and low population densities 6. Additionally, cascading effects after carnivore extinctions and range contractions have several negative effects on community structure and food-web dynamics, such as herbivore hyper-abundance and meso-predator release. Thus, it is imperative to identify the factors that affect carnivore persistence in isolated populations and protected areas.
To understand carnivore connectivity, and identify corridors to improve connectivity, descriptions of both landscape structure and species-specific habitat suitability are needed. Habitat suitability information in connectivity studies is usually converted to a resistance surface as a measure of the estimated cost for an animal to transverse that area. A rigorous but data-intensive approach to corridor planning is to develop empirical habitat suitability models from field surveys. Methods to obtain habitat suitability information for large carnivores include camera trapping surveys, radio- or GPS-collar telemetry data, and other indirect evidence (i.e. scat sampling). The resulting information on carnivore-habitat relationships can be used in corridor designs based on least-cost path models or circuit theory.
The two largest areas of deforestation, high human pressure, and biodiversity loss in South America are located in the Atlantic Forest in eastern Brazil and northern Argentina, and in the Pacific Forests of northern South America. Because the latter holds critically endangered ecosystems, such as the Tumbesian dry forests, it had been proposed as the Tumbes-Choco-Magdalena hotspot (TCMH) for conservation priority. Thus, we will work in the southern forests of Ecuador and Peru, within the TCMH. Currently, our main objectives are to: 1) identify the factors affecting carnivore persistence in fragmented landscapes and 2) identify species-specific responses to fragmented landscapes.
Thanks to Spectacled Bear Conservation Society and the Peruvian Desert Cat Project for sharing their data and collaborating with us! We are also joined efforts with the University of Guayaquil and we set up camera traps in Isl Santay, near Guayaquil City in Ecuador!! We are currently gathering existing field data sets to include in our analysis. So if you have carnivore records and would like to collaborate, please contact us at [email protected] and [email protected].