Aim To determine where mammals that are presumed to be extinct are most likely to be rediscovered, and to test predictions of two hypotheses to explain trajectories of decline in mammals. Range collapse is based on the premise that extinction rates at the edge of species ranges are highest because habitat is suboptimal, so declining species are predicted to survive longer near the centre of their ranges. We predicted that under range collapse, remnant populations are most likely be rediscovered within their former core range. Conversely, if threats usually spread across ranges, declining species will be pushed to the periphery (range eclipse), so rediscoveries are predicted at the edge of the pre-decline range. If so, species would be more likely to be rediscovered in marginal habitat, and at higher elevations than the sites from which they disappeared.
Methods Using data on 67 species of mammals which have been rediscovered, I tested whether species were disproportionately rediscovered in the outer 50% of their former range area or at higher elevations than their last recorded locations, and which species characteristics were associated with rediscovery location and habitat change, using both the phylogenetic generalized least squares method to account for phylogenetic non-independence and linear models of raw species data.
Results Species affected by habitat loss were more likely to be rediscovered at the periphery than the centre of their former range, consistent with range eclipse caused by the spread of habitat destruction. High human population pressure predicted which species changed habitat between their previous records and rediscovery. Coastal species experienced higher human population densities, and were more likely to be rediscovered at the periphery of their former ranges, and there was some evidence of an up-slope shift associated with higher human populations at lower elevations.
Main conclusion The locations of rediscoveries of species affected by habitat loss were consistent with range eclipse through a mechanism of spreading habitat loss and human population pressure, rather than with range collapse. Searches for mammals that have declined from habitat loss should include range edges and marginal habitat, especially in areas of high human population density.