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Fragmentation and low density as major conservation challenges for the southernmost populations of the European wildcat

AuthorsGil-Sánchez, José María; Barea-Azcón, José Miguel; Jaramillo, Javier; Herrera-Sánchez, F. Javier; Jiménez, José ; Virgós, Emilio
Issue Date2020
PublisherPublic Library of Science
CitationPLoS ONE 15(1): e0227708 (2020)
AbstractKnowledge of population dynamics of threatened species in the wild is key to effective conservation actions. However, at present, there are many examples of endangered animals for which their current situation is unknown, and not just in remote areas and less developed countries. We have explored this topic by studying the paradigmatic case of the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris), an endangered small carnivore whose status has been subjectively established on the basis of non-systematic approaches and opportunistic records. Little is known about its demographic situation, prompting the need for information to improve conservation measures. However, the secretive behaviour of felines along with its low density in natural conditions have prevented the gathering of sufficient data. We developed a field sampling strategy for one of the largest populations (Andalusia, South Spain, 87,268 km2), based on a logistically viable systematic non-intrusive survey by camera-trapping. This study offers the first large-scale estimation for any European wildcat population, based on analytical approaches applied on Species Distribution Models. A hierarchical approach based on a Maxent model for distribution estimation was used, along with Generalised Linear Models for density estimation from explicit spatial capture-recapture data. Our results show that the distribution range is smaller and more highly fragmented than previously assumed. The overall estimated density was very low (0.069 ±0.0019 wildcats/km2) and the protected areas network seems to be insufficient to cover a significant part of the population or a viable nucleus in demographic terms. Indeed, the most important areas remain unprotected. Our main recommendations are to improve the protected area network and/or vigilance programs in hunting estates, in addition to studying and improving connectivity between the main population patches.
Publisher version (URL)https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0227708
Appears in Collections:(IREC) Artículos
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