Spatial viability analysis of Amur tiger Panthera tigris altaica in the Russian Far East: the role of protected areas and landscape matrix in population persistence
Carlos Carroll, PO Box 104, Orleans, CA 95556–0104, USA (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org).
- 1The Amur or Siberian tiger Panthera tigris altaica forms a relatively small and disjunct population of less than 600 individuals in the Russian Far East. Because tigers in this region require large territories to acquire sufficient prey, current strictly protected areas, comprising 3·4% (10 300 km2) of the region, are unlikely to prevent extirpation of the subspecies in the face of expanding forestry and external demand for tiger parts.
- 2We used resource selection function models and spatially explicit population models to analyse the distribution and predict the demographic structure of the population to identify policy options that may enhance population viability.
- 3A resource selection function model developed from track distribution data predicted that tigers were most likely to occur in lower altitude valley bottoms with Korean pine forest and low human impacts.
- 4The results from the spatially explicit population model suggested that current tiger distribution is highly dependent on de facto refugia with low human impacts but without statutory protection, and that small increases in mortality in these areas will result in range fragmentation. Although an expanded reserve network only marginally increases tiger viability under current conditions, it dramatically enhances distribution under potential future scenarios, preventing regional extirpation despite a more hostile landscape matrix.
- 5The portion of tiger range most resistant to extirpation connects a large coastal reserve in the central portion of the region with largely unprotected watersheds to the north. A southern block of habitat is also important but more severely threatened with anthropogenic disturbances. The results suggest that preserving source habitat in these two zones and ensuring linkages are retained between blocks of habitat in the north and south will be critical to the survival of the tiger population.
- 6Synthesis and applications. Conservation priorities identified in this analysis differ from those suggested by a conservation paradigm focusing only on sustaining and connecting existing protected areas that has been applied to tiger conservation in more developed landscapes with higher prey densities. An alternative paradigm that assesses population viability in a whole-landscape context and develops priorities for both protected area expansion and increasing survival rates in the landscape matrix may be more appropriate in areas where tigers and other large carnivores coexist with low-density human populations. Although landscape connectivity merits increased emphasis in conservation planning, identification of landscape linkages should be tied to broad-scale recommendations resulting from spatial viability analyses in order to prevent misdirection of resources towards protecting corridors that add little to population persistence.