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Environmental niche overlap between snow leopard and four prey species in Kazakhstan
- Holt, Claire Denice Stevenson, Nevin, Owen Thomas, Smith, Darrell, Convery, Ian
- Ecological informatics 2018 v.48 pp. 97-103
- Capra sibirica, Cervus elaphus, Ovis ammon, Panthera uncia, biogeography, farming systems, forests, habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, habitats, humans, indigenous species, models, mouflon, prey species, Kazakhstan
- The snow leopard Panthera uncia has declined due to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and human persecution. Predator distribution is heavily dependent on prey species availability and distribution. With increasing pressures from farming practices encroaching into native species range and persecution of snow leopards in response to livestock depredation, it is vital to assess current predator and prey species distribution to highlight sensitive areas of overlap for protection. This study uses MaxEnt, a presence-only Species Distribution Model (SDM) to assess snow leopard and four prey species habitat suitability along the southern and eastern borders of Kazakhstan using environmental data. This area is considered an important corridor between snow leopard populations in the north and south of their range. Each of the five SDM's produced models of ‘good’ discriminating abilities. We then compared the potential niche overlap between snow leopard and four prey species using ENMTools to highlight areas of important niche overlap within the corridor. The results indicated a very high degree of overlap between snow leopard and Siberian ibex Capra sibirica and high degrees with red deer Cervus elaphus, argali Ovis ammon and urial Ovis orientalis. The snow leopard population in this region is also found to be using forested areas below 2500 m, much lower than recorded in other areas of their range. The results highlight areas needed for protection but also pose additional conservation questions regarding the importance of prey species to transitory individuals.