How does climate change affect Leopard conservation and survival

A recent study published an interesting retrospective on the issue

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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How does climate change affect Leopard conservation and survival
© Wikimedia Commons

The leopard has disappeared from North Africa, with the exception of some residual populations in the Moroccan Atlas and near the border between Algeria and Morocco. The species is still common in sub-Saharan Africa, although it has become rare in West Africa and its populations are fragmented. The feline's distribution area has shrunk at a local level in the most densely populated areas. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the leopard's distribution area in Africa has shrunk by 36.7%.

In Asia, it has spread from the Middle East to China, although populations are increasingly declining outside protected areas. In the Arabian Peninsula, the total population was estimated by the Arabian Fauna Conservation Workshop at fewer than 200 individuals. In Indonesia, the feline is present on the islands of Java and Kangean. The Amur populations are very threatened; only a few examples remain in Russia and perhaps North Korea.

Leopard
Leopard© Wikimedia Commons
 

The main threats affecting the species are poaching for its skin and bones, used in traditional Asian pharmacopoeia, as well as conflicts with livestock owners and the scarcity of prey. But obviously climate change also plays a fundamental role.

The study Leopard subspecies conservation under climate and land-use change, published on the Ecology and evolution, shared an interesting retrospective on the issue.

The researchers highlighted: "The projected decline in the proportion of suitable ranges within protected areas threatens the global ability to effectively conserve leopards because survival rates are substantially lower outside protected areas due to persecution. Therefore, it is important to collaborate with local communities to address negative human-wildlife interactions and restore habitats to preserve landscape connectivity where PA coverage is low. On the other hand, the expected increase in PA suitability. range across southern Europe presents opportunities for expansion outside the contemporary range, taking advantage of European rewilding schemes.

Leopard
Leopard© Wikimedia Commons
 

Predicting the effects of global environmental changes on species distributions is a top conservation priority, particularly for large ones carnivores, which contribute to the regulation and maintenance of ecosystems. As the most widespread and adaptable big cat, ranging across Africa and Asia, leopards are crucial to many ecosystems as both a keystone and umbrella species, but are threatened throughout their ranges. We used intraspecific species distribution models (SDMs) to predict changes in range suitability for leopards under future climate and land use changes and identify gaps in conservation. and opportunities We generated intraspecific SDMs for the three western leopard subspecies, the African leopard, Panthera pardus pardus; and the Persian leopard, Panthera pardus tulliana, and we overlaid the predictions with protected area coverage.

Leopard subspecies differ in their environmental associations and vulnerability to future changes. African and Arabian leopards are projected to lose about 25% and about 14% of their currently suitable range, respectively, while the Persian leopard is projected to see gains of about 12%. We found that the majority of areas deemed suitable have not been protected, with only 4%-16% of subspecies' ranges falling within protected areas, and that these proportions will decline in the future. The highly variable responses we found across leopard subspecies highlight the importance of considering intraspecific variation when modeling vulnerability to climate and land use changes."