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Jaguars in the Amazon are threatened by climate extremes

Jaguars in the Peruvian Amazon will be able to handle climate change in the short-term, but could become severely threatened as extreme weather events increasingly interfere with food resources, according to research led by Queensland University of Technology (QUT). 

The study is the first to examine how climate change may impact the jaguar, which is the dominant predator in Central and South America.

“Estimates of jaguar numbers are difficult to achieve because the big cats are cryptic by nature, are not always uniquely identifiable, and their habitat can be hostile to humans,” explained study co-author Professor Kerrie Mengersen.

The research was focused on data gathered during a 2016 expedition to the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, which covers 20,800 square kilometers in the Loreto region of the Peruvian Amazon. 

The experts also used the results of a census study based on camera traps and scat, as well as data collected from Indigenous rangers in the reserve.

To analyze future population scenarios, the team mapped the jaguar’s solitary behavior, births of cubs at certain times of the year, competition, and availability of key prey. The experts also accounted for illegal hunting.

According to Professor Kevin Burrage, the predicted outcomes for the jaguars were concerning in the long-term. 

“Our results imply that jaguars can cope with extreme drought and flood, but there is a very high probability that the population will crash if the conditions are repeated over short time periods. These scenarios are becoming more likely due to climate change,” said Professor Burrage.

“The declines may be further exacerbated by hunting of both jaguars and their prey, as well as loss of habitat through deforestation.”

The analysis suggests that jaguars can recover- at lower numbers – if there are periods without extreme weather events.

“In this worst-case scenario, prey levels could not recover, and jaguar populations were predicted to drop to single digits in 30 years’ time,” said Professor Burrage.

The study is published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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