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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Habitat suitability and landscape connectivity for carnivores in a South American biodiversity hotspot Hurtado Martinez, Cindy Meliza


The establishment of protected areas (PA) has become a primary conservation action to prevent further loss of biodiversity. However, the isolation of PAs due to habitat loss threatens their effectiveness. Limited conservation funding should be directed to improve effectiveness in vulnerable regions, such as biodiversity hotspots, and for vulnerable species. Species from the Order Carnivora are often the focus of conservation efforts, particularly efforts aiming to increase landscape connectivity through the implementation of wildlife corridors. I investigated connectivity and carnivore conservation in the Tumbesian Region, a biodiversity hotspot in northern Peru and southern Ecuador. I aimed to address three main questions: 1) what is the importance of landscape connectivity for carnivores in fragmented landscapes? 2) Can existing knowledge be used to create reliable habitat suitability models (HSM)? 3) Can these HSMs inform corridor design? To answer the first question, I used an extensive camera-trapping dataset and hierarchical occupancy models to test the effect of landscape connectivity on carnivores. For the second, I used scientific literature, expert opinion, and camera trapping to develop HSMs for the puma (Puma concolor). Using expert opinion, I also developed HSMs for three other species: ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), margay (Leopardus wiedii), and Pampas cat (Leopardus colocola). Finally, I defined and compared puma corridors using circuit theory methods based on the three types of HSMs. My results suggest that landscape connectivity is of similar importance to habitat amount and habitat protection in maintaining carnivore richness and occupancy. Carnivore responses to these factors varied by species, but occupancy of forest-dependent mesocarnivores was most positively associated with landscape connectivity, while almost all carnivore species had a negative association with roads. Additionally, I showed that existing scientific literature can inform HSMs for pumas when using information from across their range. Habitat suitability inferred from expert-opinion models was more accurate for forest-dependent rather than open-habitat carnivores. I found that some corridors identified using expert opinion and literature HSMs were similar to those identified from models using more labour-intensive camera-trap surveys. My results underscore the importance of conserving landscape connectivity and highlight cost-effective approaches to inform habitat protection in fragmented biodiversity hotspots.

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