The increase in human-driven impacts on the natural world continues to threaten the survival of several species of wildlife. Many endangered species that currently survive in small populations across isolated habitats are particularly vulnerable. It is important to not only conserve these small populations but also enable movement of individuals between them. Facilitating ‘connectivity’ of populations and habitats is therefore a key conservation issue. The Asiatic wild dog (dhole) is one of many endangered species that can benefit from connectivity conservation. A recent study by scientists from Wildlife Conservation Society–India (WCS–India), National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), University of Florida, Conservation Initiatives and Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS) assessed connectivity of dhole populations across India, and identified priority locations where efforts need to be invested towards connectivity conservation.
The researchers first collated information on dhole distribution and all the factors that influence dhole movement, like forest cover, protected areas, agroforests (plantations of coffee, tea, rubber, cashew, etc.), human populations, roads/railway lines, terrain ruggedness, forest fragmentation, built-up areas and water bodies. Combining animal movement models and spatial conservation prioritisation methods enabled the researchers to map connectivity hotspots for dholes across the entire country. This information was further used to demarcate “dhole conservation landscapes”, assess the relative importance of different protected areas, and identify the taluks where targeting conservation efforts would help maintain or improve connectivity for dholes.
According to the study, dhole populations in India fell into three clusters– the Western and Eastern Ghats (WEG), Central Indian Landscape (CIL) and North-East India (NEI). WEG was found to be a stronghold region for dholes, harbouring a large number of source populations with a large proportion of land under protection. Four protected area clusters were crucial for supporting connectivity across the landscape; of notable importance was the cluster consisting of Protected Areas at the Goa-Karnataka border. CIL appeared to be weak in terms of connectivity, with a lot less forest cover and relatively more isolated protected areas. NEI had the largest proportion of forested land and therefore very diffused patterns of connectivity. The study identified 114 priority taluks (most of them in WEG and CIL), where habitat consolidation or recovery had the potential to enhance dhole population connectivity.
Many previous studies have speculated that dholes are forest-dependent and that movement of individuals across protected areas can be difficult in the absence of adequate forest cover or other wildlife-friendly habitats. The current study suggests that efforts to maintain and improve dhole connectivity should be targeted towards populations in WEG and CIL, with particular focus on habitat patches and taluks that facilitate movement between the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats. The findings also substantiate the fact that long-term viability of dholes in India requires a nationwide species conservation plan that incorporates connectivity conservation, and implemented at the appropriate management levels.
Citation: Rodrigues, R. G., Srivathsa, A., Vasudev, D. (2021). Dog in the matrix: Envisioning connectivity conservation for an endangered carnivore. Journal of Applied Ecology. Doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.14048. Link.