Habitat fragmentation a bigger threat to Chile’s Güiña wildcat

On January 16, 2018, British Ecological Society reported on a new study: A spatially integrated framework for assessing socioecological drivers of carnivore decline.

Research by conservationists at the University of Kent found that habitat fragmentation, and the subdivision of large farms into smaller ones, are the biggest threats facing the Güiña wildcat in Chile.

This forest living cat is surprisingly tolerant to deforestation and direct killing by people as retaliation for lost livestock (poultry) is not common, according to the findings published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

The Güiña also known as a Kodkod (leopardus güiña) inhabit the moist forests of Argentina, Chile and the Island of Chiloe. The small wildcat has been in decline for many years, with a population estimated to be fewer than 10,000 individuals and listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1996. Güiñas are protected in Argentina and Chile.

The Güiña has a reputation for attacking livestock and, therefore, is perceived negatively by rural inhabitants in the region. As a result, it had been assumed that a major threat to the future of the Güiña was human persecution, coupled with extensive farming and logging that has seen its habitat reduced by almost 70% since 1970.

However, through a series of questionnaires, camera trap data and remote-sensed images the researchers, led by Nicolas Galvez studying at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), found that the Güiña is remarkably adaptable to forest loss.

In particular the team found that large, intensive agricultural areas are actually well suited for the Güiña and should not be dismissed as poor quality habitat. This is because there are often unfarmed areas that provide refuge, food resources and suitable conditions for rearing young.

As a result, the researchers suggested that farmers with large properties are key stakeholders in the conservation of this species and must be at the center of any conservation interventions that aim to protect existing land where the Güiña is usually found.

The findings also highlight a framework that can be used to spatially match social and ecological data which could help with conservation efforts for other similar small to medium sized carnivores in other parts of the world. The framework provides a clearer understanding of how habitat loss, land fragmentation and human interactions affect species survival.

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