Big cats and big connectivity

Location of Green Corridor in Atlantic Forest EcoregionRecent publications on lions, tigers, jaguars, clouded leopards, and ocelots provide a wealth of new data that allows for even better estimates of connectivity and provides information for conservation planning and management decisions that will help keep cats around the world better protected.

A new, large dataset on jaguar movement across five countries in the Neotropics is now publicly available for use without cost or restrictions.  With almost 135,000 locations on 117 individuals, the dataset can be used to answer critical questions about the best ways to keep jaguar populations connected and how to make effective management decisions.

Protected jaguar areas in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest aim to keep populations connected, but only represent about one-third of the total amount of habitat area and one-third of the equivalent connected area of the whole network.  In addition, protected areas themselves do not contribute largely to connectivity in the region, and nearly half of the forest fragments that connect protected areas aren’t under any degree of protection.  Assigning these corridors more protected status would help make the protected area network more effective for jaguar conservation.

Lion Sabi Sands South AfricaPine plantations in the Argentinean Atlantic Forest are not optimal habitat for jaguars and pumas, but are not necessarily barriers to movement.  A new camera trap study at almost 300 locations shows that tree plantations can potentially act as as corridors for jaguars, pumas, and their prey if they maintain a high proportion of native forest, good connectivity to large patches of protected forest, and have low threat from poaching.

There are multiple analytical approaches to estimate resistance surfaces and model connectivity, although it’s unclear which ones work the best.  Using a large dataset on pumas in Southern California, a comparison of methodology concludes that path or point selection functions, or landscape genetic models, should be used to estimate landscape resistance, and cost distance‐based approaches, such as least‐cost corridors and resistant kernels, should be used to estimate connectivity.

Tiger populations in Nepal have doubled in the past decade, but there is still the need for better protected there and throughout the Terai Arc region.  The first comprehensive and systematic scat-based, non-invasive genetic survey of tigers in Nepal reveals the genetic structure of the population and evidence of a bottleneck, highlighting the importance of preserving corridors between protected areas to maintain gene flow.

Conservation of large carnivores requires addressing both core habitats and their linkages, as well as consideration for human-wildlife conflict in populated areas.  A recent analysis for lions in southern Africa considers all these components in mapping population connectivity, and provides an example for how to approach empirical-based conservation planning with large carnivores in general.

Sunda Clouded LeopardSunda clouded leopards inhabit some of Borneo’s most rapidly disappearing forests, and are under threat from the conversion of native forest to palm oil plantations. A recent assessment of how clouded leopard connectivity may change in the future under different development scenarios shows that preservation and restoration of forest canopy cover is key to keeping populations linked.

Private lands can be an asset in creating and conserving protected areas, particularly riparian forests that have the potential to act as wildlife corridors.  A camera trap study in Brazil of over 200 stations showed that ocelots are highly likely to use riparian corridors of native forest when surrounded by sugarcane plantations, highlighting the importance of supporting protected areas on private land in agricultural landscapes.



Which data types and connectivity algorithms best capture individual movement? (April 2018)

Bridging the gap between large-scale connectivity and local management actions (May 2017)

Cushman SA, Elliot NB, Bauer D, Kesch K, Bothwell H, Flyman M, Mtare G, Macdonald DW, and Loveridge AJ. 2018. Prioritizing core areas, corridors and conflict hotspots for lion conservation in southern Africa. PLoS ONE 13(7): e0196213.

Diniz MF, Machado RB, Bispo AA, and Brito D. 2018. Identifying key sites for connecting jaguar populations in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Animal Conservation 21: 201-10.

Hearn AJ, Cushman SA, Goossens B, Macdonald E, Ross J, Hunter LT, Abram NK, Macdonald DW. 2018. Evaluating scenarios of landscape change for Sunda clouded leopard connectivity in a human dominated landscape. Biological Conservation 222: 232-40.

Morato RG, Thompson JJ, Paviolo A, de La Torre JA, Lima F, McBride Jr RT, Paula RC, Cullen Jr L, Silveira L, Kantek DL, Ramalho EE, et al. 2018. Jaguar movement database: a GPS‐based movement dataset of an apex predator in the Neotropics. Ecology 99: 1691.

Paolino RM, Royle JA, Versiani NF, Rodrigues TF, Pasqualotto N, Krepschi VG, and Chiarello AG. 2018. Importance of riparian forest corridors for the ocelot in agricultural landscapes. Journal of Mammalogy 99: 874-84.

Paviolo A, Cruz P, Iezzi ME, Pardo JM, Varela D, De Angelo C, Benito S, Vanderhoeven E, Palacio L, Quiroga V, Arrabal JP, Costa S, and DiBitetti MS. 2018. Barriers, corridors or suitable habitat? Effect of monoculture tree plantations on the habitat use and prey availability for jaguars and pumas in the Atlantic Forest. Forest Ecology and Management 430: 576-86.

Thapa K, Manandhar S, Bista M, Shakya J, Sah G, Dhakal M, Sharma N, Llewellyn B, Wultsch C, Waits LP, Kelly MJ, Hero J-M, Hughes J, and Karmacharya D. 2018. Assessment of genetic diversity, population structure, and gene flow of tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) across Nepal’s Terai Arc Landscape. PLoS ONE 13(3): e0193495.

Zeller KA, Jennings MK, Vickers TW, Ernest HB, Cushman SA, and Boyce WM. 2018. Are all data types and connectivity models created equal? Validating common connectivity approaches with dispersal data. Diversity and Distributions 24: 868-879.

2018-10-02T11:54:22-04:00 September 24th, 2018|

About the Author:

Heather Cayton
Heather Cayton is the Managing Director of and a Research Assistant at Michigan State University. She received her B.S. from the University of Virginia and her M.S. from Virginia Tech, and has spent the past nine years studying corridors and rare butterflies in North Carolina.