Contrasting responses of large carnivores to land use management across an Asian montane landscape in Iran
Mohammadi A., Lunnon C., Moll RJ., Tan CKW., Hobeali K., Behnoud P., Moghadas P., Macdonald DW., Farhadinia MS.
Land-use change has led to substantial range contractions for many species. Such contractions are particularly acute for wide-ranging large carnivores in Asia’s high altitude areas, which are marked by high spatiotemporal variability in resources. Current conservation planning for human-dominated landscapes often takes one of two main approaches: a “coexistence” (land sharing) approach or a “separation” (land sparing) approach. In this study, we evaluated the effects of land-use management on a guild of large carnivores in a montane ecosystem located in northeastern Iran. We used interview surveys to collect data on Persian leopard Panthera pardus saxicolor and grey wolf Canis lupus and modeled the areas occupied by these species in a Bayesian framework. After accounting for imperfect detection, we found that wolves had a higher probability of occupying the study area than leopards (82%; 95% CI 73–90% vs. 63%; 95% CI 53–73%). Importantly, each predator showed contrasting response to land-use management. National Parks (i.e. human-free areas) had a positive association with leopard occupancy (αNational Park = 2.56, 95% CI 0.22–5.77), in contrast to wolves, which displayed a negative association with National Parks (αNational Park = − 1.62, 95% CI − 2.29 to 0.31). An opposite pattern was observed for human-dominated areas (i.e. Protected Areas and Communal Lands), where occupancy was higher for wolves but lower for leopards. Our study suggests that to protect these large carnivores, a combination of land sharing and land sparing approaches is desirable within Iran montane landscapes. Any recovery program for big cats in Iranian mountains, and likely similar mountainous landscapes in west Asia, should take into account other sympatric carnivores and how they can affect adjacent human communities. For example, conflict mitigation and compensation efforts are required to include the guild of large carnivores, instead of solely targeting the charismatic big cats.