Fragmentation and low density as major conservation challenges for the southernmost populations of the European wildcat
MetadataShow full item record
Public Library of Science
Gil-Sánchez JM, Barea-Azcón JM, Jaramillo J, Herrera-Sánchez FJ, Jiménez J, Virgós E (2020) Fragmentation and low density as major conservation challenges for the southernmost populations of the European wildcat. PLoS ONE 15 (1): e0227708. [https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pone.0227708]
SponsorshipThe research was partially funded by the Consejería de Medio Ambiente y Ordenación del Territorio (www.juntadeandalucia.es > medioambiente > site > portalweb) through the European Union (FEDER Project http://www. juntadeandalucia.es/medioambiente/site/portalweb/ menuitem.6ffc7f4a4459b86a1daa5c105510e1c/? vgnextoid=05cf8706a8bb9510VgnVCM10000013 25e50aRCRD&vgnextchannel=05cf8706a8bb9510 VgnVCM1000001325e50aRCRD) and is part of the Global Change Observatory of Sierra Nevada (https://digibug.ugr.es/handle/10481/54686). J.M. G.-S. was supported by a Prometeo fellowship from the SENESCYT and the national agency for Education and Science of the Government of Ecuador (https://www.educacionsuperior.gob.ec/ prometeo/). There aren’t specific grant numbers or funding from commercial companies. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Knowledge of population dynamics of threatened species in the wild is key to effective conservation actions. However, at present, there are many examples of endangered animals for which their current situation is unknown, and not just in remote areas and less developed countries. We have explored this topic by studying the paradigmatic case of the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris), an endangered small carnivore whose status has been subjectively established on the basis of non-systematic approaches and opportunistic records. Little is known about its demographic situation, prompting the need for information to improve conservation measures. However, the secretive behaviour of felines along with its low density in natural conditions have prevented the gathering of sufficient data. We developed a field sampling strategy for one of the largest populations (Andalusia, South Spain, 87,268 km2 ), based on a logistically viable systematic non-intrusive survey by camera-trapping. This study offers the first large-scale estimation for any European wildcat population, based on analytical approaches applied on Species Distribution Models. A hierarchical approach based on a Maxent model for distribution estimation was used, along with Generalised Linear Models for density estimation from explicit spatial capture-recapture data. Our results show that the distribution range is smaller and more highly fragmented than previously assumed. The overall estimated density was very low (0.069 ±0.0019 wildcats/km2 ) and the protected areas network seems to be insufficient to cover a significant part of the population or a viable nucleus in demographic terms. Indeed, the most important areas remain unprotected. Our main recommendations are to improve the protected area network and/or vigilance programs in hunting estates, in addition to studying and improving connectivity between the main population patches.