Ecological Niche Modeling and Evaluation of the Jaguar's Geographic Distribution

Ecological Niche Modeling tools are being used to estimate current and future jaguar distribution and to identify priority areas for the species’ conservation in the long-term.

The biggest threats to biodiversity in general include the occupation of natural areas by humans and global climate changes that have been deemed responsible for modifications in the geographic distributions of several species. One of the main problems faced by conservationists who seek to reverse these threats is to identify priority areas for biodiversity conservation. Despite the jaguar’s wide original distribution, anthropogenic pressure and large-scale habitat conversion have restricted its current distribution to less than 46% of its original range (Sanderson et al., 2002).

A range-wide jaguar conservation plan should be based on the knowledge of its past and present geographic distribution, enabling a more precise assessment of its conservation status and a better allocation of conservation efforts at a landscape level. However, large-scale distribution data are difficult to obtain. Predictive distribution modeling based on the species’ ecological requirements that extrapolates data to unknown areas through Geographical Information System methods has been widely used as an alternative to this approach. This method produces maps that indicate where a species is likely to occur using a function of underlying environmental variables at locations of known occurrences.

Using data collected with the Current Jaguar Distribution and Conservation Status in Brazil, this study intends to estimate the jaguar’s potential distribution using predictive modeling that considers climate change models and future land-use scenarios. Preliminary results show that areas with suitable habitat in the future (mainly the Amazon and Cerrado areas) are located in the “arc of deforestation”, currently under strong pressure of conversion to soybean and sugarcane plantations (Torres et al., 2008). Final results will help to evaluate the efficiency of conservation units and to indicate priority conservation areas for the species.

Associated thesis:

Tôrres, N. M. Uso de Modelagem de Nicho Ecológico na Avaliação da Distribuição Geográfica da Onça-Pintada. Ph.D. thesis, federal University of Goiás, Goiânia, Brazil. Start: March 2007.

References:

Sanderson, E. W., Redford, K. H., Chetkiewitz, C. B., Medellin, R. A., Rabinowitz, A. R., Robinson, J. G. and Taber, A. B. (2002). Planning to Save a Species: the Jaguar as a Model.

Conservation Biology 16(1), S. 58-72. Tôrres, N. M., De Marco Jr., P., Diniz Filho, J. A. F., and Silveira, L. 2008. Jaguar Distribution in Brazil: Past, Present, and Future. Cat News Special Issue 4, 4-8.

Photos