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Keywords:

  • Siberian tiger;
  • connectivity;
  • conservation planning;
  • carnivore conservation;
  • Sikhote;
  • Alin;
  • China;
  • Russian Far East

Abstract

The future of wild tigers is dire, and the Global Tiger Initiative's (GTI) goal of doubling tiger population size by the next year of the tiger in 2022 will be challenging. The GTI has identified 20 tiger conservation landscapes (TCL) within which recovery actions will be needed to achieve these goals. The Amur tiger conservation landscape offers the best hope for tiger recovery in China where all other subspecies have most likely become extirpated. To prioritize recovery planning within this TCL, we used tiger occurrence data from adjacent areas of the Russian Far East to develop two empirical models of potential habitat that were then averaged with an expert-based habitat suitability model to identify potential tiger habitat in the Changbaishan ecosystem in Northeast China. We assessed the connectivity of tiger habitat patches using least-cost path analysis calibrated against known tiger movements in the Russian Far East to identify priority tiger conservation areas (TCAs). Using a habitat-based population estimation approach, we predicted that a potential of 98 (83–112) adult tigers could occupy all TCAs in the Changbaishan ecosystem. By combining information about habitat quality, connectivity and potential population size, we identified the three best TCAs totaling over 25 000 km2 of potential habitat that could hold 79 (63–82) adult tigers. Strong recovery actions are needed to restore potential tiger habitat to promote recovery of Amur tigers in China, including restoring ungulate populations, increasing tiger survival through improved anti-poaching activities, land-use planning that reduces human access and agricultural lands in and adjacent to key TCAs, and maintaining connectivity both within and across international boundaries. Our approach will be useful in other TCLs to prioritize recovery actions to restore worldwide tiger populations.