Mapping connectivity and conflict risk to identify safe corridors for the Persian leopard

Abstract

Many large carnivores depend on habitat patches outside protected areas, as well as safe corridors between them. However, corridor assessments typically ignore potential conflicts between carnivores and people, which can undermine corridor effectiveness and thus conservation success. We identified safe dispersal corridors and conflict-prone movement bottlenecks for Persian leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor) between protected areas in the Alborz Mountains, Iran, by mapping habitat, landscape permeability, and conflict risk. We then identified priority areas for conservation interventions according to the intensities of different threats. We mapped land cover using Landsat satellite images, gathered data on leopard and prey distributions and livestock depredation events via interview surveys in 69 cells of 6 × 6 km each. We then used occupancy modeling to identify habitat patches, used circuit theory modeling to analyze landscape permeability, and assessed human-leopard conflict risk using generalized linear models. Leopard habitat use increased with prey availability and decreased with elevation. Prey distribution, in turn, was mostly negatively influenced by agricultural lands and distance from protected areas. Conflict risk (i.e., probability of leopard depredation on livestock) was high in landscapes where agriculture was widespread and historical forest loss high. Not accounting for conflicts overestimated connectivity among habitat patches substantially. Human-carnivore conflicts are an important constraint to connectivity and should be considered in corridor assessments. Our study shows how habitat analysis, connectivity assessment, and conflict risk mapping can be combined to guide conservation planning for identifying habitat networks and safe corridors for carnivores in human-dominated landscapes.

Publication
Landscape Ecology, 35(8) 1809-1825
Arash Ghoddousi
Arash Ghoddousi
Senior Researcher
Benjamin Bleyhl
PhD student & Postdoctoral Researcher
Mahmood Soofi
Mahmood Soofi
Postdoctoral scientist
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab