Researchers have developed a new way to identify the best sites for lion conservation activities. The international team of scientists, which was led by Samuel Cushman of the U.S. Forest Service, analyzed the movement of lions using GPS collar data.
Lions are now distributed across a range that is less than 10 percent of its past size, primarily due to human conflict and land use changes.
Experts agree that conservation efforts must integrate the preservation of core habitat areas and the paths that link them with the mitigation of human-wildlife conflict. Up until now, however, few efforts have made all three of these factors a priority.
For the current investigation, the research team took two approaches to spatial modeling known as “resistant kernel” and “factorial least cost path.” These strategies were used to analyze GPS collar data captured from lions in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), which spans more than 520,000 square kilometers in four countries.
The scientists identified nine key regions where lions can move freely between breeding sites, enabling them to maintain a level of genetic diversity that supports healthy lion populations. The experts also identified 27 corridors linking these core areas, as well as 27 potential sites for human-lion conflict.
Overall, the team pinpointed three dispersal areas as being critical for continued lion conservation, four strategic corridors that must be protected for the safe movement of lions, and four locations with the greatest risk of human-lion conflict that require action.
The location-ranking system used in this study could be used to improve upon conservation strategies for others species as well.
“The next decade is a critical time for lion conservation given the rapid pace of population growth and land use change across Africa,” said Cushman. “It is critical that landscape conservation designs based on rigorous analysis identify and prioritize the most important places for protection.”
The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer
Image Credit: Karen Arnold