Living on the edge: Opportunities for Amur tiger recovery in China
- Citation data:
Biological Conservation, ISSN: 0006-3207, Vol: 217, Page: 269-279
- Publication Year:
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences; Environmental Science
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Sporadic sightings of the endangered Amur tiger Panthera tigris altaica along the China-Russia border during the late 1990s sparked efforts to expand this subspecies distribution and abundance by restoring potentially suitable habitats in the Changbai Mountains. To guide science-based recovery efforts and provide a baseline for future monitoring of this border population, empirical, quantitative information is needed on what resources and management practices promote or limit the occurrence of tigers in the region. We established a large-scale field camera-trapping network to estimate tiger density, survival and recruitment in the Hunchun Nature Reserve and the surrounding area using an open population spatially explicit capture-recapture model. We then fitted an occupancy model that accounted for detectability and spatial autocorrelation to assess the relative influence of habitat, major prey, disturbance and management on tiger habitat use patterns. Our results show that the ranges of most tigers abut the border with Russia. Tiger densities ranged between 0.20 and 0.27 individuals/100 km 2 over the study area; in the Hunchun Nature Reserve, the tiger density was three times higher than that in the surrounding inland forested area. Tiger occupancy was strongly negatively related to heavy cattle grazing, human settlements and roads and was positively associated with sika deer abundance and vegetation cover. These findings can help to identify the drivers of tiger declines and dispersal limits and refine strategies for tiger conservation in the human-dominated transboundary landscape. Progressively alleviating the impacts of cattle and human disturbances on the forest, and simultaneously addressing the economic needs of local communities, should be key priority actions to increase tiger populations. The long-term goal is to expand tiger distribution by improving habitats for large ungulates.