Khalatbari L, Yusefi GH, Martínez-Freiría F, Jowkar H, Brito JC



Understanding how species have been affected by recent human mediated landscape transformation is crucial for designing effective conservation strategies. The Critically Endangered Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) has faced a dramatic range decline and currently occurs in very small populations restricted to the mountain deserts of Central Iran. In this study, we aim to quantify temporal changes in ecological requirements and availability of suitable areas for the Asiatic cheetah. Ecological models for historical and contemporary time-periods were built based on historical and contemporary species records and using a set of 11 ecogeographical variables including climate, anthromes and prey availability of each time-period, using maximum entropy modelling. Distance to the prey Gazella bennettii was the most important factor related to the occurrence of cheetahs in historical time period, while in contemporary times it was replaced by the climatic factor maximum temperature of the warmest month. Predicted areas of high suitability occur within the borders of Iran. When compared, suitability decreased 72% from historical to contemporary periods causing the current loss of suitability in some protected areas. Our results suggest that the fundamental niche of Asiatic cheetahs has not changed but the realized niche has changed over time. When environmental correlates of species distribution for each time period are analysed in detail, changes in realized niche are likely related to depletion of cheetah’s main prey, temperature variation and landscape transformation of its habitats. Conservation measures should start urgently to improve protection for gazelle species (prey) and wildlands (habitat), especially in temperate areas, to ensure the survival of the last Asiatic cheetahs. Further research on cheetah’s interaction with other predators and preys, and gene flow dynamics between populations would also benefit its long term conservation.



Journal: Hystrix - The Italian Journal of Mammalogy

DOI: 10.4404/hystrix-00080-2018