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Modelling ecological niches from low numbers of occurrences: assessment of the conservation status of poorly known viverrids (Mammalia, Carnivora) across two continents

Authors

  • M. Papeş,

    1. Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center, The University of Kansas, 1345 Jayhawk Boulevard, Lawrence, KS 66045-7561, USA,
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  • P. Gaubert

    Corresponding author
    1. Département Milieux et Peuplements Aquatiques, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, UR IRD 131 – UMS MNHN 403, 43 rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris, France
      Correspondence: P. Gaubert, Département Milieux et Peuplements Aquatiques, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, UR IRD 131 – UMS MNHN 403, 43 rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris, France. Tel.: (33)1 40 79 31 68; Fax: (33)1 40 79 37 71; E-mail: gaubert@mnhn.fr
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Correspondence: P. Gaubert, Département Milieux et Peuplements Aquatiques, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, UR IRD 131 – UMS MNHN 403, 43 rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris, France. Tel.: (33)1 40 79 31 68; Fax: (33)1 40 79 37 71; E-mail: gaubert@mnhn.fr

ABSTRACT

The conservation of poorly known species is difficult because of incomplete knowledge on their biology and distribution. We studied the contribution of two ecological niche modelling tools, the Genetic Algorithm for Rule-set Prediction (GARP) and maximum entropy (Maxent), in assessing potential ranges and distributional connectivity among 12 of the least known African and Asian viverrids. The level of agreement between GARP and Maxent predictions was low when < 15 occurrences were available, probably indicating a minimum number below that necessary to obtain models with good predictive power. Unexpectedly, our results suggested that Maxent extrapolated more than GARP in the context of small sample sizes. Predictions were overlapped with current land use and location of protected areas to estimate the conservation status of each species. Our analyses yielded range predictions generally contradicting with extents of occurrence established by the IUCN. We evidenced a high level of disturbance within predicted distributions in West and East Africa, Sumatra, and South-East Asia, and identified within West African degraded lowlands four relatively preserved areas that might be of prime importance for the conservation of rainforest taxa. Knowing whether these species of viverrids may survive in degraded or alternative habitats is of crucial importance for further conservation planning. The level of coverage of species suitable ranges by existing and proposed IUCN reserves was low, and we recommend that the total surface of protected areas be substantially increased on both continents.

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