Hemami M-R, Esmaeili S, Brito JC, Ahmadi M, Omidi M, Martínez-Freiría F



Mammalian carnivores play a fundamental role in ecosystem structure and function. Arid ecosystems of the Central Iranian plateau host a high diversity of carnivore species for which patterns of habitat selection and co-existence are poorly understood. We evaluated habitat correlates and segregation for five felid species in a mountainous arid region in central Iran: the sand cat, wildcat, caracal, Asiatic cheetah and Persian leopard. We produced ecological niche models (ENMs) and metrics of niche overlap to identify the most important drivers of habitat selection and patterns of species co-existence within the felids guild. We found three distinct patterns of habitat use, implying niche partitioning among the five felid species: (1) specialised use of sand dunes and desert woodlands by sand cat; (2) specialised use of flat and foothills desert areas in the case of the cheetah; and (3) broad, more generalised use of numerous habitat types in wildcat, caracal, and leopard. Together, these results indicate that mountains within vast, flat deserts (a.k.a. ‘sky islands’) are a cornerstone for maintaining ecological communities and predator-prey dynamics in south-western Asia. By increasing our understanding of coexistence in an understudied carnivore guild, our work provides critical information for the conservation of arid ecosystems..



Journal: Hystrix, Italian Journal of Mammalogy

DOI: 10.4404/hystrix-00042-2017