In the News
Below are a few abstracts of recent scientific articles regarding wild felids.
Climate change increases predation risk for a keystone species of the boreal forest
Peers, M.J.L., et al. 2020. Nature Climate Change 10:1149-1153
Abstract – Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) and snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) form a keystone predator–prey cycle that has large impacts on the North American boreal forest vertebrate community. Snowshoe hares and lynx are both well-suited for snowy winters, but climate change-associated shifts in snow conditions could lower hare survival and alter cyclic dynamics. Using detailed monitoring of snowshoe hare cause-specific mortality, behaviour and prevailing weather, we demonstrate that hare mortality risk is strongly influenced by variation in snow conditions. Although predation risk from lynx was largely unaffected by snow conditions, coyote (Canis latrans) predation increased in shallow snow. Maximum snow depth in our study area has decreased 33% over the last two decades and predictions based on prolonged shallow snow indicate that future hare survival could resemble that seen during population declines. Our results indicate that climate change could disrupt cyclic dynamics in the boreal forest.
Top predator ecology and conservation: Lesson from jaguars in southeastern Mexico.
Cruz, C., et al. 2021. Conservation Science and Practice 3(2): e328.
Abstract – Our research is the most comprehensive study of jaguar behavior ecology in Mexico. By analyzing and describing the movements and use of the space, as well as the interactions among individual jaguars, we can better understand their behavioral differences, habitat use, and home range. This type of information is critical for the development and implementation of effective and appropriate conservation strategies. We identified home range size for 14 jaguars in a 13-year period and described the interspecific relations and use of space by the percentages of overlap of the territories between individuals. Collectively, the average home range size was larger than 200 km2, ranging from 48 to 633 km2 and averaging 296 km2 for males varied and 37–435 km2, with an average of 148 km2, for females. However, home range sizes did not differ significantly among males or females. Male territory overlapped about 3.3% on average (range 2.5–15.5%), suggesting that most of the time males avoid each other. Average overlap of female territory was 12%, ranging from 7 to 100%. Males share an average of 18% (range 2–56%) of its territory and with up to five females, suggesting that a given male may be related to all of them at certain periods of time. There were no seasonal changes (dry and rainy seasons) in home range sizes for both male and females. Our research is an important contribution to the ecological information essential for landscape-level conservation plans for the protection of the jaguars and the biological diversity of the wider Yucatan Peninsula in which they inhabit.
Effects of climate change on the distribution of felids: mapping biogeographic patterns and establishing conservation priorities.
Zanin, M., et al. 2021. Biodiversity and Conservation 30:1375-1394.
Abstract – Climate changes may threaten the survival of felids by driving range shifts, altering the biogeographical characteristics of their existing range, and decreasing range overlap with protected areas. In this study, we investigate these threats and delineate priority areas for conservation by comparing current (1950–1999) with future (2080–2100) distribution predicted by climatic niche modelling. Distribution changes encompass centroid displacement of up to 1067 km, range contractions of up to 460 km2, and fragmentation into up to 29 populations. Some felids may expand their distribution by up to 1016 km2, which could facilitate the reconnection of isolated populations if appropriate management plans are implemented. The protected area network overlaps with just 5.85% of the current distribution of felids and would decline to 3.69% in the future scenario, necessitating an expansion of protected areas in areas of felids distribution. However, countries that are subject to the greatest landcover changes worldwide (e.g. Brazil, China, and India) are also home to the priority areas to felids conservation, underscoring the urgency and potential challenges of safeguarding felids.
The role of the environment in the spatial dynamics of an extensive hybrid zone between two neotropical cats.
Sartor, C. C., et al. 2021. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 34:614-627.
Abstract – Identifying factors that create and maintain a hybrid zone is of great interest to ecology, evolution and, more recently, conservation biology. Here, we investigated the role of environmental features in shaping the spatial dynamics of a hybrid zone between the southern tigrina, Leopardus guttulus, and Geoffroy's cat, L. geoffroyi, testing for exogenous selection as the main force acting on its maintenance. These Neotropical felid species are mainly allopatric, with a restricted area of sympatry in the ecotone between the Atlantic Forest and Pampa biomes. As both biomes have experienced high rates of anthropogenic habitat alteration, we also analysed the influence of habitat conversion on the hybrid zone structure. To do this, we used 13 microsatellite loci to identify potential hybrids and generated ecological niche models for them and their parental species. We compared the influence of variables on parental species and hybrid occurrence and calculated the amount of niche overlap among them. Parental species showed different habitat requirements and predicted co-occurrence was restricted to the forest-grassland mosaic of the ecotone. However, hybrids were found beyond this area, mainly in the range of L. geoffroyi. Hybrids demonstrated higher tolerance to habitat alteration than parental types, with a probability of occurrence that was positively related with mosaics of cropland areas and remnants of natural vegetation. These results indicate that exogenous selection alone does not drive the dynamics of the hybrid zone, and that habitat conversion influences its structure, potentially favouring hybrids over parental species.
Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) gene flow across a mountain transition zone in western North America.
Watt, C. M., et al. 2021. Canadian Journal of Zoology 99:131-140.
Abstract – Mountain ecotones have the potential to cause multiple patterns in divergence, from simple barrier effects to more fundamental ecological divergence. Most work in mountain ecotones in North America has focused on reinforcement between refugial populations, making prediction of how mountains impact species that are not restricted to separate glacial refugia remains difficult. This study focused on the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis Kerr, 1792), a highly mobile felid considered to be a habitat and dietary specialist. Specifically, we used 14 microsatellite loci and landscape genetic tools to investigate if the Rocky Mountains and associated climatic transitions influence lynx genetic differentiation in western North America. Although lynx exhibited high gene flow across the region, analyses detected structuring of neutral genetic variation across our study area. Gene flow for lynx most strongly related to temperature and elevation compared with other landscape variables (terrain roughness, percent forest cover, and habitat suitability index) and geographic distance alone. Overall, genetic structure in lynx is most consistent with barrier effects created by the Rocky Mountains rather than ecological divergence. Furthermore, warmer temperatures had a measurable impact on gene flow, which suggests connectivity may further decrease in peripheral or fragmented populations as climate warms.