Assessment of habitat suitability of the snow leopard ( Panthera uncia ) in Qomolangma National Nature Reserve based on MaxEnt modeling|
Bai, De-Feng; Chen, Peng-Ju; Atzeni, Luciano; Cering, Lhaba; Li, Qian & Shi, Kun
Habitat evaluation constitutes an important and fundamental step in the management of wildlife populations and conservation policy planning. Geographic information system (GIS) and species presence data provide the means by which such evaluation can be done. Maximum Entropy (MaxEnt) is widely used in habitat suitability modeling due to its power of accuracy and additional descriptive properties. To survey snow leopard populations in Qomolangma (Mt. Everest, QNNR) National Nature Reserve, Tibet, China, we pooled 127 pugmarks, 415 scrape marks, and 127 non-invasive identifications of the animal along line transects and recorded 87 occurrences through camera traps from 2014–2017. We adopted the MaxEnt model to generate a map highlighting the extent of suitable snow leopard habitat in QNNR. Results showed that the accuracy of the MaxEnt model was excellent (mean AUC=0.921). Precipitation in the driest quarter, ruggedness, elevation, maximum temperature of the warmest month, and annual mean temperature were the main environmental factors influencing habitat suitability for snow leopards, with contribution rates of 20.0%, 14.4%, 13.3%, 8.7%, and 8.2% respectively. The suitable habitat area extended for 7001.93 km2, representing 22.72% of the whole reserve. The regions bordering Nepal were the main suitable snow leopard habitats and consisted of three separate habitat patches. Our findings revealed that precipitation, temperature conditions, ruggedness, and elevations of around 4 000 m a.s.l. influenced snow leopard preferences at the landscape level in QNNR. We advocate further research and cooperation with Nepal to evaluate habitat connectivity and to explore possible proxies of population isolation among these patches. Furthermore, evaluation of subdivisions within the protection zones of QNNR is necessary to improve conservation strategies and enhance protection.
Qomolangma National Nature Reserve; Snow leopard; MaxEnt; Habitat suitability assessment; Tibet