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Landscape evaluation in conservation: molecular sampling and habitat modeling for the Iberian lynx

AuthorsFernández, Néstor ; Delibes, M. ; Palomares, Francisco
endangered species
fecal DNA
habitat modeling
information-theoretic approach
Lynx pardinus
mammalian carnivores
model selection
molecular survey
population assessment
Issue DateJun-2007
PublisherEcological Society of America
CitationEcological Applications, 16(3), 2006, pp. 1037–1049
AbstractConservation of endangered species requires comprehensive understanding of their distribution and habitat requirements, in order to implement better management strategies. Unfortunately, this understanding is often difficult to gather at the short term required by rapidly declining populations of many rare vertebrates. We present a spatial habitat modeling approach that integrates a molecular technique for species detection with landscape information to assess habitat requirements of a critically endangered mammalian carnivore, the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), in a poorly known population in Spain. We formulated a set of model hypotheses for habitat selection at the spatial scale of home ranges, based on previous information on lynx requirements of space, vegetation, and prey. To obtain the required data for model selection, we designed a sampling protocol based on surveys of feces and their molecular analysis for species identification. After comparing candidate models, we selected a parsimonious one that allowed (1) reliable assessment of lynx habitat requirements at the scale of home ranges, (2) prediction of lynx distribution and potential population size, and (3) identification of landscape management priorities for habitat conservation. This model predicted that the species was more likely to occur in landscapes with a higher percentage of rocky areas and higher cover of bushes typical of mature mediterranean shrubland mosaics. Its accuracy for discriminating lynx presence was ;85%, indicating high predictive performance. Mapping model predictions showed that only 16% of the studied areas constitute potential habitat for lynx, even though the region is dominated by large extents of well-preserved native vegetation with low human interference. Habitat was mostly clumped in two nearby patches connected by vegetation adequate for lynx dispersal and had a capacity for 28–62 potential breeding territories. The lynx population in Sierra Morena is probably the largest persisting today, but it is still critically small for optimism about its long-term persistence. Model results suggest habitat conservation and restoration actions needed for preserving the species, including reconciliation of hunting management with preservation of mature shrubland over large areas (particularly in rocky landscapes). The approach presented here can be applied to many other species for which the ecological information needed to develop sound habitat conservation strategies is lacking.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/1051-0761(2006)016%5B1037:LEICMS%5D2.0.CO;2
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