Large carnivores living in tropical rainforests are under immense pressure from the rapid conversion of their habitat. In response, millions of dollars are spent on conserving these species. However, the cost-effectiveness of such investments is poorly understood and this is largely because the requisite population estimates are difficult to achieve at appropriate spatial scales for these secretive species. Here, we apply a robust detection/non-detection sampling technique to produce the first reliable population metric (occupancy) for a critically endangered large carnivore; the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae). From 2007–2009, seven landscapes were surveyed through 13,511 km of transects in 394 grid cells (17×17 km). Tiger sign was detected in 206 cells, producing a naive estimate of 0.52. However, after controlling for an unequal detection probability (where p = 0.13±0.017; ±S.E.), the estimated tiger occupancy was 0.72±0.048. Whilst the Sumatra-wide survey results gives cause for optimism, a significant negative correlation between occupancy and recent deforestation was found. For example, the Northern Riau landscape had an average deforestation rate of 9.8%/yr and by far the lowest occupancy (0.33±0.055). Our results highlight the key tiger areas in need of protection and have led to one area (Leuser-Ulu Masen) being upgraded as a ‘global priority’ for wild tiger conservation. However, Sumatra has one of the highest global deforestation rates and the two largest tiger landscapes identified in this study will become highly fragmented if their respective proposed roads networks are approved. Thus, it is vital that the Indonesian government tackles these threats, e.g. through improved land-use planning, if it is to succeed in meeting its ambitious National Tiger Recovery Plan targets of doubling the number of Sumatran tigers by 2022.
Occupying only 7% of their historical range and confined to forested habitats interspersed in a matrix of human dominated landscapes, tigers (Panthera tigris) typify the problems faced by most large carnivores worldwide. With heads of governments of tiger range countries pledging to reverse the extinction process and setting a goal of doubling wild tiger numbers by 2022, achieving this target would require identifying existing breeding cores, potential breeding habitats and opportunities for dispersal. The Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) represents one region which has recently witnessed recovery of tiger populations following conservation efforts. In this study, we develop a spatially explicit tiger occupancy model with survey data from 2009–10 based on a priori knowledge of tiger biology and specific issues plaguing the western TAL (6,979 km2), which occurs in two disjunct units (Tiger Habitat Blocks; THBs). Although the overall occupancy of tigers was 0.588 (SE 0.071), our results clearly indicate that loss in functionality of a regional corridor has resulted in tigers now occupying 17.58% of the available habitat in THB I in comparison to 88.5% in THB II. The current patterns of occupancy were best explained by models incorporating the interactive effect of habitat blocks (AIC w = 0.883) on wild prey availability (AIC w = 0.742) and anthropogenic disturbances (AIC w = 0.143). Our analysis has helped identify areas of high tiger occupancy both within and outside existing protected areas, which highlights the need for a unified control of the landscape under a single conservation unit with the primary focus of managing tigers and associated wildlife. Finally, in the light of global conservation targets and recent legislations in India, our study assumes significance as we identify opportunities to secure (e.g. THB II) and increase (e.g. THB I) tiger populations in the landscape.
Deforestation rates in Sumatra are amongst the highest in the tropics. Lowland forests, which support the highest densities of orangutans, are particularly vulnerable to clearance and fragmentation because they are highly accessible. Consequently, many orangutans will, in the future, live in strictly or partially isolated populations. Whilst orangutans have been extensively studied in primary forests, their response to living in human-dominated landscapes remains poorly known, despite it being essential for their future management. Here, we focus on an isolated group of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) that co-exist with farmers in a mixed agroforest system consisting of degraded natural forest, smallholder (predominantly rubber) farms and oil palm plantations. Over 24 months we conducted the first ever spatial assessment of orangutan habitat use in the human-transformed landscape of Batang Serangan, North Sumatra. From 1,204 independent crop-raiding incidents recorded, orangutans showed strong foraging preference for mixed farmland/degraded forest habitat over oil palm patches. The core home range areas of the eight adult orangutans encompassed only 14% of the available study area. Monthly home range sizes averaged 423 ha (±139, SD) for males, and 131±46 ha for females, and were positively influenced by wild and cultivated fruit presence, and by crop consumption. The average daily distance travelled was similar for both adult males (868 m±350, SD) and females (866 m±195), but increased when orangutans raided crops. These findings show that orangutans can survive, demographically, in certain types of degraded landscapes, foraging on a mixture of crops and wild fruits. However, the poor quality habitat offered to orangutans by oil palm plantations, in terms of low food availability and as a barrier to female movements, is cause for concern since this is the land use type that is most rapidly replacing the preferred forest habitat across both Sumatran and Bornean orangutan ranges.
Majority of the tiger habitat in Indian subcontinent lies within high human density landscapes and is highly sensitive to surrounding pressures. These forests are unable to sustain healthy tiger populations within a tiger-hostile matrix, despite considerable conservation efforts. Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (RTR) in Northwest India is one such isolated forest which is rapidly losing its links with other tiger territories in the Central Indian landscape. Non-invasive genetic sampling for individual identification is a potent technique to understand the relationships between threatened tiger populations in degraded habitats. This study is an attempt to establish tiger movement across a fragmented landscape between RTR and its neighboring forests, Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary (KPWLS) and Madhav National Park (MNP) based on non-invasively obtained genetic data.
Data from twelve microsatellite loci was used to define population structure and also to identify first generation migrants and admixed individuals in the above forests.
Population structure was consistent with the Central Indian landscape and we could determine significant gene flow between RTR and MNP. We could identify individuals of admixed ancestry in both these forests, as well as first generation migrants from RTR to KPWLS and MNP.
Our results indicate reproductive mixing between animals of RTR and MNP in the recent past and migration of animals even today, despite fragmentation and poaching risk, from RTR towards MNP. Substantial conservation efforts should be made to maintain connectivity between these two subpopulations and also higher protection status should be conferred on Madhav National Park.
Conservation investment, particularly for charismatic and wide-ranging large mammal species, needs to be evidence-based. Despite the prevalence of this theme within the literature, examples of robust data being generated to guide conservation policy and funding decisions are rare. We present the first published case-study of tiger conservation in Indochina, from a site where an evidence-based approach has been implemented for this iconic predator and its prey. Despite the persistence of extensive areas of habitat, Indochina's tiger and ungulate prey populations are widely supposed to have precipitously declined in recent decades. The Seima Protection Forest (SPF), and broader Eastern Plains Landscape, was identified in 2000 as representing Cambodia's best hope for tiger recovery; reflected in its designation as a Global Priority Tiger Conservation Landscape. Since 2005 distance sampling, camera-trapping and detection-dog surveys have been employed to assess the recovery potential of ungulate and tiger populations in SPF. Our results show that while conservation efforts have ensured that small but regionally significant populations of larger ungulates persist, and density trends in smaller ungulates are stable, overall ungulate populations remain well below theoretical carrying capacity. Extensive field surveys failed to yield any evidence of tiger, and we contend that there is no longer a resident population within the SPF. This local extirpation is believed to be primarily attributable to two decades of intensive hunting; but importantly, prey densities are also currently below the level necessary to support a viable tiger population. Based on these results and similar findings from neighbouring sites, Eastern Cambodia does not currently constitute a Tiger Source Site nor meet the criteria of a Global Priority Tiger Landscape. However, SPF retains global importance for many other elements of biodiversity. It retains high regional importance for ungulate populations and potentially in the future for Indochinese tigers, given adequate prey and protection.
The Caspian tiger (Panthera tigris virgata) flourished in Central Asian riverine forest systems in a range disjunct from that of other tigers, but was driven to extinction in 1970 prior to a modern molecular evaluation. For over a century naturalists puzzled over the taxonomic validity, placement, and biogeographic origin of this enigmatic animal. Using ancient-DNA (aDNA) methodology, we generated composite mtDNA haplotypes from twenty wild Caspian tigers from throughout their historic range sampled from museum collections. We found that Caspian tigers carry a major mtDNA haplotype differing by only a single nucleotide from the monomorphic haplotype found across all contemporary Amur tigers (P. t. altaica). Phylogeographic analysis with extant tiger subspecies suggests that less than 10,000 years ago the Caspian/Amur tiger ancestor colonized Central Asia via the Gansu Corridor (Silk Road) from eastern China then subsequently traversed Siberia eastward to establish the Amur tiger in the Russian Far East. The conservation implications of these findings are far reaching, as the observed genetic depletion characteristic of modern Amur tigers likely reflects these founder migrations and therefore predates human influence. Also, due to their evolutionary propinquity, living Amur tigers offer an appropriate genetic source should reintroductions to the former range of the Caspian tiger be implemented.
Fewer than 500 Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) remain in the wild. Due to low numbers and their solitary and reclusive nature, tiger sightings across their range in the Russian Far East and China are rare; sightings of sick tigers are rarer still. Serious neurologic disease observed in several wild tigers since 2001 suggested disease emergence in this endangered species. To investigate this possibility, histology, immunohistochemistry (IHC), in situ hybridization (ISH), and reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) were performed on tissues from 5 affected tigers that died or were destroyed in 2001, 2004, or 2010. Our results reveal canine distemper virus (CDV) infection as the cause of neurologic disease in two tigers and definitively establish infection in a third. Nonsuppurative encephalitis with demyelination, eosinophilic nuclear viral inclusions, and positive immunolabeling for CDV by IHC and ISH were present in the two tigers with available brain tissue. CDV phosphoprotein (P) and hemagglutinin (H) gene products were obtained from brains of these two tigers by RT-PCR, and a short fragment of CDV P gene sequence was detected in lymph node tissue of a third tiger. Phylogenetically, Amur tiger CDV groups with an Arctic-like strain in Baikal seals (Phoca siberica). Our results, which include mapping the location of positive tigers and recognition of a cluster of cases in 2010, coupled with a lack of reported CDV antibodies in Amur tigers prior to 2000 suggest wide geographic distribution of CDV across the tiger range and recent emergence of CDV as a significant infectious disease threat to endangered Amur tigers in the Russian Far East.
Recognition of disease emergence in wildlife is a rare occurrence. Here, for the first time, we identify and characterize a canine distemper virus (CDV), the second most common cause of infectious disease death in domestic dogs and a viral disease of global importance in common and endangered carnivores, as the etiology of neurologic disease and fatal encephalitis in wild, endangered Amur tigers. We establish that in 2010 CDV directly or indirectly killed ~1% of Amur tigers. Location of positive cases over an expansive geographic area suggests that CDV is widely distributed across the tiger range. Interspecies interactions are increasing as human populations grow and expand into wildlife habitats. Identifying animal reservoirs for CDV and identifying the CDV strains that are transmissible to and among wildlife species, including Amur tigers and sympatric critically endangered Amur leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis), is essential for guiding conservation and mitigation efforts.
Bengal tiger Panthera tigris tigris the National Animal of India, is an endangered species. Estimating populations for such species is the main objective for designing conservation measures and for evaluating those that are already in place. Due to the tiger's cryptic and secretive behaviour, it is not possible to enumerate and monitor its populations through direct observations; instead indirect methods have always been used for studying tigers in the wild. DNA methods based on non-invasive sampling have not been attempted so far for tiger population studies in India. We describe here a pilot study using DNA extracted from faecal samples of tigers for the purpose of population estimation.
In this study, PCR primers were developed based on tiger-specific variations in the mitochondrial cytochrome b for reliably identifying tiger faecal samples from those of sympatric carnivores. Microsatellite markers were developed for the identification of individual tigers with a sibling Probability of Identity of 0.005 that can distinguish even closely related individuals with 99.9% certainty. The effectiveness of using field-collected tiger faecal samples for DNA analysis was evaluated by sampling, identification and subsequently genotyping samples from two protected areas in southern India.
Our results demonstrate the feasibility of using tiger faecal matter as a potential source of DNA for population estimation of tigers in protected areas in India in addition to the methods currently in use.
Tigers and their close relatives (Panthera) are some of the world’s most endangered species. Here we report the de novo assembly of an Amur tiger whole-genome sequence as well as the genomic sequences of a white Bengal tiger, African lion, white African lion and snow leopard. Through comparative genetic analyses of these genomes, we find genetic signatures that may reflect molecular adaptations consistent with the big cats’ hypercarnivorous diet and muscle strength. We report a snow leopard-specific genetic determinant in EGLN1 (Met39>Lys39), which is likely to be associated with adaptation to high altitude. We also detect a TYR260G>A mutation likely responsible for the white lion coat colour. Tiger and cat genomes show similar repeat composition and an appreciably conserved synteny. Genomic data from the five big cats provide an invaluable resource for resolving easily identifiable phenotypes evident in very close, but distinct, species.
Tigers are an endangered species and therefore understanding their genetic architecture could aid conservation efforts. Here, the authors report the first genome sequence of the Amur tiger and, through close species comparative genomic analysis, provide insight into the genome organization, evolutionary divergence and diversity of big cats.
We investigated the spatial genetic structure of the tiger meta-population in the Satpura–Maikal landscape of central India using population- and individual-based genetic clustering methods on multilocus genotypic data from 273 individuals. The Satpura–Maikal landscape is classified as a global-priority Tiger Conservation Landscape (TCL) due to its potential for providing sufficient habitat that will allow the long-term persistence of tigers. We found that the tiger meta-population in the Satpura–Maikal landscape has high genetic variation and very low genetic subdivision. Individual-based Bayesian clustering algorithms reveal two highly admixed genetic populations. We attribute this to forest connectivity and high gene flow in this landscape. However, deforestation, road widening, and mining may sever this connectivity, impede gene exchange, and further exacerbate the genetic division of tigers in central India.
Central India; connectivity; non-invasive genetic analysis; Panthera tigris; spatial genetics; tiger
Ecological studies of orangutans have almost exclusively focused on populations living in primary or selectively logged rainforest. The response of orangutans to severe habitat degradation remains therefore poorly understood. Most experts assume that viable populations cannot survive outside undisturbed or slightly disturbed forests. This is a concern because nearly 75% of all orangutans live outside protected areas, where degradation of natural forests is likely to occur, or where these are replaced by planted forests. To improve our understanding of orangutan survival in highly altered forest habitats, we conducted population density surveys in two pulp and paper plantation concessions in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. These plantations consist of areas planted with fast-growing exotics intermixed with stands of highly degraded forests and scrublands. Our rapid surveys indicate unexpectedly high orangutan densities in plantation landscapes dominated by Acacia spp., although it remains unclear whether such landscapes can maintain long-term viable populations. These findings indicate the need to better understand how plantation-dominated landscapes can potentially be incorporated into orangutan conservation planning. Although we emphasize that plantations have less value for overall biodiversity conservation than natural forests, they could potentially boost the chances of orangutan survival. Our findings are based on a relatively short study and various methodological issues need to be addressed, but they suggest that orangutans may be more ecologically flexible than previously thought.
Native forests are shrinking worldwide, causing a loss of biological diversity. Our ability to prioritize forest conservation actions is hampered by a lack of information about the relative impacts of different types of forest loss on biodiversity. In particular, we lack rigorous comparisons of the effects of clearing forests for tree plantations and for human settlements, two leading causes of deforestation worldwide. We compared avian diversity in forests, plantations and exurban areas on the Cumberland Plateau, USA, an area of global importance for biodiversity. By combining field surveys with digital habitat databases, and then analyzing diversity at multiple scales, we found that plantations had lower diversity and fewer conservation priority species than did other habitats. Exurban areas had higher diversity than did native forests, but native forests outscored exurban areas for some measures of conservation priority. Overall therefore, pine plantations had impoverished avian communities relative to both native forests and to exurban areas. Thus, reports on the status of forests give misleading signals about biological diversity when they include plantations in their estimates of forest cover but exclude forested areas in which humans live. Likewise, forest conservation programs should downgrade incentives for plantations and should include settled areas within their purview.
Mosquito-borne infections cause some of the most debilitating human diseases, including yellow fever and malaria, yet we lack an understanding of how disease risk scales with human-driven habitat changes. We present an approach to study variation in mosquito distribution and concomitant viral infections on the landscape level. In a pilot study we analyzed mosquito distribution along a 10-km transect of a West African rainforest area, which included primary forest, secondary forest, plantations, and human settlements. Variation was observed in the abundance of Anopheles, Aedes, Culex, and Uranotaenia mosquitoes between the different habitat types. Screening of trapped mosquitoes from the different habitats led to the isolation of five uncharacterized viruses of the families Bunyaviridae, Coronaviridae, Flaviviridae, and Rhabdoviridae, as well as an unclassified virus. Polymerase chain reaction screening for these five viruses in individual mosquitoes indicated a trend toward infection with specific viruses in specific mosquito genera that differed by habitat. Based on these initial analyses, we believe that further work is indicated to investigate the impact of anthropogenic landscape changes on mosquito distribution and accompanying arbovirus infection.
tropical rainforest; anthropogenic habitat change; flavivirus; bunyavirus; coronavirus; rhabdovirus
Mosquito-borne infections cause some of the most debilitating human diseases, including yellow fever and malaria, yet we lack an understanding of how disease risk scales with human-driven habitat changes. We present an approach to study variation in mosquito distribution and concomitant viral infections on the landscape level. In a pilot study we analyzed mosquito distribution along a 10-km transect of a West African rainforest area, which included primary forest, secondary forest, plantations, and human settlements. Variation was observed in the abundance of Anopheles, Aedes,Culex, and Uranotaenia mosquitoes between the different habitat types. Screening of trapped mosquitoes from the different habitats led to the isolation of five uncharacterized viruses of the families Bunyaviridae, Coronaviridae, Flaviviridae, and Rhabdoviridae, as well as an unclassified virus. Polymerase chain reaction screening for these five viruses in individual mosquitoes indicated a trend toward infection with specific viruses in specific mosquito genera that differed by habitat. Based on these initial analyses, we believe that further work is indicated to investigate the impact of anthropogenic landscape changes on mosquito distribution and accompanying arbovirus infection.
tropical rainforest; anthropogenic habitat change; flavivirus; bunyavirus; coronavirus; rhabdovirus
Landscape genetic studies offer a fine-scale understanding of how habitat heterogeneity influences population genetic structure. We examined population genetic structure and conducted a landscape genetic analysis for the endangered Central American Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri oerstedii) that lives in the fragmented, human-modified habitats of the Central Pacific region of Costa Rica. We analyzed non-invasively collected fecal samples from 244 individuals from 14 groups for 16 microsatellite markers. We found two geographically separate genetic clusters in the Central Pacific region with evidence of recent gene flow among them. We also found significant differentiation among groups of S. o. citrinellus using pairwise FST comparisons. These groups are in fragments of secondary forest separated by unsuitable “matrix” habitats such as cattle pasture, commercial African oil palm plantations, and human residential areas. We used an individual-based landscape genetic approach to measure spatial patterns of genetic variance while taking into account landscape heterogeneity. We found that large, commercial oil palm plantations represent moderate barriers to gene flow between populations, but cattle pastures, rivers, and residential areas do not. However, the influence of oil palm plantations on genetic variance was diminished when we restricted analyses to within population pairs, suggesting that their effect is scale-dependent and manifests during longer dispersal events among populations. We show that when landscape genetic methods are applied rigorously and at the right scale, they are sensitive enough to track population processes even in species with long, overlapping generations such as primates. Thus landscape genetic approaches are extremely valuable for the conservation management of a diverse array of endangered species in heterogeneous, human-modified habitats. Our results also stress the importance of explicitly considering the heterogeneity of matrix habitats in landscape genetic studies, instead of assuming that all matrix habitats have a uniform effect on population genetic processes.
The Tiger (Panthera tigris) population in India has undergone a sharp decline during the last few years. Of the number of factors attributed to this decline, habitat fragmentation has been the most worrisome. Wildlife corridors have long been a subject of discussion amongst wildlife biologists and conservationists with contrasting schools of thought arguing their merits and demerits. However, it is largely believed that wildlife corridors can help minimize genetic isolation, offset fragmentation problems, improve animal dispersal, restore ecological processes and reduce man animal conflict. This study attempted to evaluate the possibilities of identifying a suitable wildlife corridor between two very important wildlife areas of central India – the Kanha National Park and the Pench National Park – with tiger as the focal species. Geographic Information System (GIS) centric Least Cost Path modeling was used to identify likely routes for movement of tigers. Habitat suitability, perennial water bodies, road density, railway tracks, human settlement density and total forest edge were considered as key variables influencing tiger movement across the Kanha-Pench landscape. Each of these variables was weighted in terms of relative importance through an expert consultation process. Using different importance scenarios, three alternate corridor routes were generated of which one was identified as the most promising for tiger dispersal. Weak links – where cover and habitat conditions are currently sub-optimal – were flagged on the corridor route. Interventions aimed at augmenting the identified corridor route have been suggested using accepted wildlife corridor design principles. The involvement of local communities through initiatives such as ecotourism has been stressed as a crucial long term strategy for conservation of the Kanha-Pench wildlife corridor. The results of the study indicate that restoration of the identified wildlife corridors between the two protected areas is technically feasible.
The conversion of natural forest to oil palm plantation is a major current threat to the conservation of biodiversity in South East Asia. Most animal taxa decrease in both species richness and abundance on conversion of forest to oil palm, and there is usually a severe loss of forest species. The extent of loss varies significantly across both different taxa and different microhabitats within the oil palm habitat. The principal driver of this loss in diversity is probably the biological and physical simplification of the habitat, but there is little direct evidence for this. The conservation of forest species requires the preservation of large reserves of intact forest, but we must not lose sight of the importance of conserving biodiversity and ecosystem processes within the oil palm habitat itself. We urgently need to carry out research that will establish whether maintaining diversity supports economically and ecologically important processes. There is some evidence that both landscape and local complexity can have positive impacts on biodiversity in the oil palm habitat. By intelligent manipulation of habitat complexity, it could be possible to enhance not only the number of species that can live in oil palm plantations but also their contribution to the healthy functioning of this exceptionally important and widespread landscape.
oil palm; Elaeis spp.; biodiversity; ecosystem function; ecosystem service; habitat complexity
Our objective was to identify the distribution of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler (Setophaga chrysoparia) in fragmented oak–juniper woodlands by applying a geoadditive semiparametric occupancy model to better assist decision-makers in identifying suitable habitat across the species breeding range on which conservation or mitigation activities can be focused and thus prioritize management and conservation planning.
We used repeated double-observer detection/non-detection surveys of randomly selected (n = 287) patches of potential habitat to evaluate warbler patch-scale presence across the species breeding range. We used a geoadditive semiparametric occupancy model with remotely sensed habitat metrics (patch size and landscape composition) to predict patch-scale occupancy of golden-cheeked warblers in the fragmented oak–juniper woodlands of central Texas, USA.
Our spatially explicit model indicated that golden-cheeked warbler patch occupancy declined from south to north within the breeding range concomitant with reductions in the availability of large habitat patches. We found that 59% of woodland patches, primarily in the northern and central portions of the warbler’s range, were predicted to have occupancy probabilities ≤0.10 with only 3% of patches predicted to have occupancy probabilities >0.90. Our model exhibited high prediction accuracy (area under curve = 0.91) when validated using independently collected warbler occurrence data.
We have identified a distinct spatial occurrence gradient for golden-cheeked warblers as well as a relationship between two measurable landscape characteristics. Because habitat-occupancy relationships were key drivers of our model, our results can be used to identify potential areas where conservation actions supporting habitat mitigation can occur and identify areas where conservation of future potential habitat is possible. Additionally, our results can be used to focus resources on maintenance and creation of patches that are more likely to harbour viable local warbler populations.
Bayesian inference; golden-cheeked warbler; habitat conservation; occupancy; semiparametric regression; Setophaga chrysoparia
Invasive species are often favoured in fragmented, highly-modified, human-dominated landscapes such as urban areas. Because successful invasive urban adapters can occupy habitat that is quite different from that in their original range, effective management programmes for invasive species in urban areas require an understanding of distribution, habitat and resource requirements at a local scale that is tailored to the fine-scale heterogeneity typical of urban landscapes. The common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) is one of New Zealand’s most destructive invasive pest species. As brushtail possums traditionally occupy forest habitat, control in New Zealand has focussed on rural and forest habitats, and forest fragments in cities. However, as successful urban adapters, possums may be occupying a wider range of habitats. Here we use site occupancy methods to determine the distribution of brushtail possums across five distinguishable urban habitat types during summer, which is when possums have the greatest impacts on breeding birds. We collected data on possum presence/absence and habitat characteristics, including possible sources of supplementary food (fruit trees, vegetable gardens, compost heaps), and the availability of forest fragments from 150 survey locations. Predictive distribution models constructed using the programme PRESENCE revealed that while occupancy rates were highest in forest fragments, possums were still present across a large proportion of residential habitat with occupancy decreasing as housing density increased and green cover decreased. The presence of supplementary food sources was important in predicting possum occupancy, which may reflect the high nutritional value of these food types. Additionally, occupancy decreased as the proportion of forest fragment decreased, indicating the importance of forest fragments in determining possum distribution. Control operations to protect native birds from possum predation in cities should include well-vegetated residential areas; these modified habitats not only support possums but provide a source for reinvasion of fragments.
The proliferation of oil palm plantations has led to dramatic changes in tropical landscapes across the globe. However, relatively little is known about the effects of oil palm expansion on biodiversity, especially in key ecosystem-service providing organisms like pollinators. Rapid land use change is exacerbated by limited knowledge of the mechanisms causing biodiversity decline in the tropics, particularly those involving landscape features. We examined these mechanisms by undertaking a survey of orchid bees, a well-known group of Neotropical pollinators, across forest and oil palm plantations in Costa Rica. We used chemical baits to survey the community in four regions: continuous forest sites, oil palm sites immediately adjacent to forest, oil palm sites 2km from forest, and oil palm sites greater than 5km from forest. We found that although orchid bees are present in all environments, orchid bee communities diverged across the gradient, and community richness, abundance, and similarity to forest declined as distance from forest increased. In addition, mean phylogenetic distance of the orchid bee community declined and was more clustered in oil palm. Community traits also differed with individuals in oil palm having shorter average tongue length and larger average geographic range size than those in the forest. Our results indicate two key features about Neotropical landscapes that contain oil palm: 1) oil palm is selectively permeable to orchid bees and 2) orchid bee communities in oil palm have distinct phylogenetic and trait structure compared to communities in forest. These results suggest that conservation and management efforts in oil palm-cultivating regions should focus on landscape features.
Various studies have shown that the population densities of a number of forest vertebrates, such as orangutans, are higher on Sumatra than Borneo, and that several species exhibit smaller body sizes on Borneo than Sumatra and mainland Southeast Asia. It has been suggested that differences in forest fruit productivity between the islands can explain these patterns. Here we present a large-scale comparison of forest fruit production between the islands to test this hypothesis.
Data on fruit production were collated from Sumatran and Bornean sites. At six sites we assessed fruit production in three forest types: riverine, peat swamp and dryland forests. We compared fruit production using time-series models during different periods of overall fruit production and in different tree size classes. We examined overall island differences and differences specifically for fruiting period and tree size class. The results of these analyses indicate that overall the Sumatran forests are more productive than those on Borneo. This difference remains when each of the three forest types (dryland, riverine, and peat) are examined separately. The difference also holds over most tree sizes and fruiting periods.
Our results provide strong support for the hypothesis that forest fruit productivity is higher on Sumatra than Borneo. This difference is most likely the result of the overall younger and more volcanic soils on Sumatra than Borneo. These results contribute to our understanding of the determinants of faunal density and the evolution of body size on both islands.
Conversion of tropical forests into agriculture may present a serious risk to amphibian diversity if amphibians are not able to use agricultural areas as habitat. Recently, in Xishuangbanna Prefecture, Yunnan Province – a hotspot of frog diversity within China – two-thirds of the native tropical rainforests have been converted into rubber plantation agriculture. We conducted surveys and experiments to quantify habitat use for breeding and non-breeding life history activities of the native frog species in rainforest, rubber plantation and other human impacted sites. Rubber plantation sites had the lowest species richness in our non-breeding habitat surveys and no species used rubber plantation sites as breeding habitat. The absence of breeding was likely not due to intrinsic properties of the rubber plantation pools, as our experiments indicated that rubber plantation pools were suitable for tadpole growth and development. Rather, the absence of breeding in the rubber plantation was likely due to a misalignment of breeding and non-breeding habitat preferences. Analyses of our breeding surveys showed that percent canopy cover over pools was the strongest environmental variable influencing breeding site selection, with species exhibiting preferences for pools under both high and low canopy cover. Although rubber plantation pools had high canopy cover, the only species that bred in high canopy cover sites used the rainforest for both non-breeding and breeding activities, completing their entire life cycle in the rainforest. Conversely, the species that did use the rubber plantation for non-breeding habitat preferred to breed in low canopy sites, also avoiding breeding in the rubber plantation. Rubber plantations are likely an intermediate habitat type that ‘slips through the cracks’ of species habitat preferences and is thus avoided for breeding. In summary, unlike the rainforests they replaced, rubber plantations alone may not be able to support frog populations.
Eight traditional subspecies of tiger (Panthera tigris), of which three recently became extinct, are commonly recognized on the basis of geographic isolation and morphological characteristics. To investigate the species' evolutionary history and to establish objective methods for subspecies recognition, voucher specimens of blood, skin, hair, and/or skin biopsies from 134 tigers with verified geographic origins or heritage across the whole distribution range were examined for three molecular markers: (1) 4.0 kb of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence; (2) allele variation in the nuclear major histocompatibility complex class II DRB gene; and (3) composite nuclear microsatellite genotypes based on 30 loci. Relatively low genetic variation with mtDNA, DRB, and microsatellite loci was found, but significant population subdivision was nonetheless apparent among five living subspecies. In addition, a distinct partition of the Indochinese subspecies P. t. corbetti into northern Indochinese and Malayan Peninsula populations was discovered. Population genetic structure would suggest recognition of six taxonomic units or subspecies: (1) Amur tiger P. t. altaica; (2) northern Indochinese tiger P. t. corbetti; (3) South China tiger P. t. amoyensis; (4) Malayan tiger P. t. jacksoni, named for the tiger conservationist Peter Jackson; (5) Sumatran tiger P. t. sumatrae; and (6) Bengal tiger P. t. tigris. The proposed South China tiger lineage is tentative due to limited sampling. The age of the most recent common ancestor for tiger mtDNA was estimated to be 72,000–108,000 y, relatively younger than some other Panthera species. A combination of population expansions, reduced gene flow, and genetic drift following the last genetic diminution, and the recent anthropogenic range contraction, have led to the distinct genetic partitions. These results provide an explicit basis for subspecies recognition and will lead to the improved management and conservation of these recently isolated but distinct geographic populations of tigers.
Genetic analysis provides the basis for subspecies recognition among tigers, and will lead to improved conservation strategies for these endangered animals
With only ∼3,000 wild individuals surviving restricted to just 7% of their historical range, tigers are now a globally threatened species. Therefore, conservation efforts must prioritize regions that harbor more tigers, as well try to capture most of the remaining genetic variation and habitat diversity. Only such prioritization based on demographic, genetic, and ecological considerations can ensure species recovery and retention of evolutionary flexibility in the face of ongoing global changes. Although scientific understanding of ecological and demographic aspects of extant wild tiger populations has improved recently, little is known about their genetic composition and variability. We sampled 73 individual tigers from 28 reserves spread across a diversity of habitats in the Indian subcontinent to obtain 1,263 bp of mitochondrial DNA and 10 microsatellite loci. Our analyses reveals that Indian tigers retain more than half of the extant genetic diversity in the species. Coalescent simulations attribute this high genetic diversity to a historically large population size of about 58,200 tigers for peninsular India south of the Gangetic plains. Furthermore, our analyses indicate a precipitous, possibly human-induced population crash ∼200 years ago in India, which is in concordance with historical records. Our results suggest that only 1.7% (with an upper limit of 13% and a lower limit of 0.2%) of tiger numbers in historical times remain now. In the global conservation context our results suggest that, based on genetic, demographic, and ecological considerations, the Indian subcontinent holds the key to global survival and recovery of wild tigers.
Tiger range and numbers have collapsed globally despite substantial conservation efforts. Genetic data quantifying variation from 73 wild tigers in 28 reserves in the Indian subcontinent suggests historically high numbers for tigers, and simulations reveal a signature of a 200-year-old, possibly human-induced decline. Simulations suggest that only 1.7% of historical tiger numbers now persist in peninsular Indian. Our data also reveal that tigers of the Indian subcontinent retain most of the species' genetic diversity, besides this region harbouring maximum diversity of tiger habitats. Overall, the Indian subcontinent appears to be a global hotspot holding the key to any future recovery of wild tigers from both an ecological and genetic perspective.
Otoacoustic emissions (sound emitted from the ear) allow cochlear function to be probed noninvasively. The emissions evoked by pure tones, known as stimulus-frequency emissions (SFOAEs), have been shown to provide reliable estimates of peripheral frequency tuning in a variety of mammalian and non-mammalian species. Here, we apply the same methodology to explore peripheral auditory function in the largest member of the cat family, the tiger (Panthera tigris). We measured SFOAEs in 9 unique ears of 5 anesthetized tigers. The tigers, housed at the Henry Doorly Zoo (Omaha, NE), were of both sexes and ranged in age from 3 to 10 years. SFOAE phase-gradient delays are significantly longer in tigers—by approximately a factor of two above 2 kHz and even more at lower frequencies—than in domestic cats (Felis catus), a species commonly used in auditory studies. Based on correlations between tuning and delay established in other species, our results imply that cochlear tuning in the tiger is significantly sharper than in domestic cat and appears comparable to that of humans. Furthermore, the SFOAE data indicate that tigers have a larger tonotopic mapping constant (mm/octave) than domestic cats. A larger mapping constant in tiger is consistent both with auditory brainstem response thresholds (that suggest a lower upper frequency limit of hearing for the tiger than domestic cat) and with measurements of basilar-membrane length (about 1.5 times longer in the tiger than domestic cat).