Connectivity conservation for large mammals in a human-dominated biodiversity hotspot Open Access
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University of Alberta
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- Supervisor and department
St. Clair, Colleen (Biological Sciences)
- Examining committee member and department
Noon, Barry (Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Colorado State University)
Derocher, Andrew (Biological Sciences)
St. Clair, Colleen (Biological Sciences)
Lewis, Mark (Biological Sciences)
Boyce, Mark (Biological Sciences)
Department of Biological Sciences
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Doctor of Philosophy
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The conservation of large mammals such as Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) and tiger (Panthera tigris) requires management of core reserves, as well as habitat and connectivity across multiple-use areas. These charismatic species may also help catalyze conservation investments that may benefit other species. Yet, it remains challenging to prioritize multiple-use areas in terms of their importance for habitat use and connectivity; assess whether flagship species also perform umbrella functions; achieve a balance between the complexities of single-species management and the use of surrogate species; and, manage carnivore presence in human-dominated connective areas. For conservation applications, these questions may need to be answered under constraints of time, finances and local capacity. Such challenges are especially urgent in biodiversity hotspots, and are typified in the Western Ghats of India, where the Shencottah Gap separates two major tiger reserves.
Using surveys for animal signs (collected between 2008 and 2010), I identified habitat with the highest potential for density of use, inter-reserve dispersal and movement across the major linear barrier in the region for elephant and gaur (Bos gaurus). I then developed models of elephant and tiger habitat use with camera-trap data (collected between 2011 and 2013), and evaluated the congruence between these models and the detection rates or presence of 22 other mammals. Combining sign and camera-trap surveys, I then classified 14 mammals into functional types reflecting their common niche characteristics. Finally, I used camera-trap data to evaluate whether tiger presence was best explained by spatial habitat attributes, temporal segregation with humans, individual variation or temporary infirmity.
Areas of high use by large herbivores had low overlap with connective areas, suggesting that prioritizing one function may come at the cost of the other. Detections of elephants and tigers were strongly correlated with each other and with gaur, but correlations with other species were more ambiguous. This suggests only mixed umbrella species functionality for elephants and tigers. Niche characteristics were used to divide mammals into four functional types, which ranged from those associated with closed forest to more human-associated species; threatened species were distributed across all groups. This suggests that multiple-use areas may be able to sustain a range of threatened species. Tiger presence at the population level was positively correlated to gaur use and negatively to distance from human infrastructure. However, individual tiger identity influenced the use of areas close to human infrastructure, and temporary infirmity was associated with avoidance of gaur habitat. Overall, these results suggest that both the opportunities and challenges of conservation in multiple-use areas must be identified before the implementation of participatory conservation programs.
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