Identifying priority areas for restoring mountain ungulates in the Caucasus ecoregion

Abstract

Mountain ungulates around the world have been decimated to small, fragmented populations. Restoring these species often is limited by inadequate information on where suitable habitat is found, and which restoration measures would help to increase and link existing populations. We developed an approach to spatially target threat-specific restoration actions and demonstrate it for bezoar goats (Capra aegagrus) in the Caucasus. Using a large occurrence dataset, we identified suitable habitat patches and evaluate them in terms of connectivity, protection status, and competition with other mountain ungulates. We found extant bezoar goat populations to be highly isolated, yet with widespread areas of suitable, unoccupied habitat between them. Many unoccupied habitat patches were well-connected to extant populations, were at least partly protected, and have low potential for competition with other Capra species. This signals substantial pressure on bezoar goats, likely due to poaching, which currently prevents natural recolonization. Our study shows how restoration planning is possible in the face of multiple threats and scarce data. For bezoar goats in the Caucasus, we pinpoint priority patches for specific restoration measures, including reintroductions and anti-poaching action. We highlight that many patches would benefit from multiple interventions and that transboundary restoration planning is needed, a situation likely similar for many mountain ungulates around the world.

Publication
Conservation Science and Practice e276
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab
Hendrik Bluhm
Hendrik Bluhm
Ph.D. student
Arash Ghoddousi
Arash Ghoddousi
Senior Researcher
Benjamin Bleyhl
PhD student & Postdoctoral Researcher
Mahmood Soofi
Mahmood Soofi
Postdoctoral scientist