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Corridors that can save jaguars

Jaguars, the largest felines in America, are under serious pressure from habitat loss and land use intensification.
©EU; author: Gregoire Dubois
May 19 2017

A new study has assessed and provided management recommendations for the main corridors linking the few remaining jaguar populations in northern Argentina, in the southernmost part of the range of this emblematic species in America. The study was led by the Argentinean Instituto de Biología Subtropical with the participation of JRC, which contributed with the most recent methods and expertise on landscape connectivity analyses.

Global trends in habitat loss and land use intensification are imposing considerable challenges on many wildlife species, particularly when they are fragmented in increasingly smaller populations that, alone, are too small to persist in the long term. This is the case of the jaguar in the forests of northern Argentina, where the third-largest feline in the world (after the tiger and the lion) and the largest in America can still be found. Only about 65 jaguars (or yaguaretés, as they are called there) are estimated to persist in the Argentinean region of Misiones (next to the famous Iguazú Falls) and in the nearby areas in the south of Brazil.

The hopes for the conservation of these remaining populations rely considerably on safeguarding their connectivity with the larger populations further north. The land needs to be managed in a way that allows jaguars to move between the different populations. These movements are essential to maintain their genetic diversity and to compensate for natural or human-caused population fluctuations in certain areas. Therefore, connectivity is a key part of the strategies to maintain healthy and viable jaguar populations in the long term, which is the ultimate aim of the Yaguareté conservation project in Argentina.

However, it has been difficult to persuade local actors to implement connectivity principles in their management practices, which could make a real difference for conservation. This applies not only to jaguars but, more broadly, to other species, ecosystems and study areas. Progress in this direction has been made difficult by the lack of solid methodological approaches that are both scientifically sound and usable in practice by the actors managing the land.

This new study presents an approach that helps to address this gap. The study evaluates habitat availability and connectivity in the five main jaguar corridors in northern Argentina, considering the local land management units (properties), land cover and land use data mainly acquired through remote sensing, and information from GPS-collared jaguars to estimate the movement range of the species in the region. The study identifies the priority forest patches for maintaining connectivity, and proposes specific management strategies for each corridor area. The recommended strategies consider the specific role of each forest patch as well as the threats in each area, which can include deforestation, poaching, livestock activities and the impacts of roads as potential barriers and sources of mortality of the species.  

Safeguarding connectivity for this emblematic species would also benefit many other species and ecosystem services that are associated with these forests and natural corridors.

The methods for connectivity analysis that support this study (which continue to be developed in the JRC) can potentially be applied, under different variants, in other land management or conservation planning situations, ranging from other individual species, to the broader design of protected area networks, and to the identification of priorities for land restoration and green infrastructure planning. These methods are in fact being used to deliver a global indicator of protected area connectivity through the JRC’s Digital Observatory for Protected Areas. They also contribute to the efforts to conserve the most endangered feline species in Europe, the Iberian lynx; this is the focus of the LIFE+ Iberlince project, to which the JRC author of this study, Santiago Saura, is a scientific advisor.

Aerial view, obtained using a drone, of one of the key five corridor areas analysed in the study, which is crossed by the national road 101 in Argentina.

©Diego Varela (Instituto de Biología Subtropical).

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