A new study provides the first countrywide assessment of Asiatic wild dog habitat connectivity patterns and identifies key conservation landscapes in India
India is a mega-biodiverse country, hosting many rare and unique wildlife species. But many endangered species currently survive in small populations across isolated habitats. Such populations are extremely vulnerable to extinctions. Facilitating ‘connectivity’ of these populations and habitats is an issue of critical conservation importance.
The Asiatic wild dog (also called ‘dhole’) is one of many endangered species that can benefit from connectivity conservation. A recent study by scientists from Wildlife Conservation Society–India (WCS–India), National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), University of Florida (USA), Conservation Initiatives, and Centre for Wildlife Studies, assessed connectivity of dhole populations across India, and identified priority locations where efforts need to be invested towards connectivity conservation.
The scientists combined animal movement models and spatial conservation prioritisation methods to map connectivity hotspots for dholes across the entire country. This information was further used to demarcate ‘dhole conservation landscapes’, assess the relative importance of different protected areas, and identify the talukswhere targeting conservation efforts would help maintain or improve connectivity for dholes.
Dhole populations in India are found in three clusters: the Western-Eastern Ghats, central Indian landscape and Northeast India. The Western-Eastern Ghats is a stronghold region for dholes, harbouring a large number of source populations with a large proportion of land under protection. According to lead author Ryan Rodrigues, “Four protected area clusters here were crucial for supporting connectivity across the landscape. Of notable importance was the cluster of Protected Areas at the Goa-Karnataka border”
The study also found the central Indian landscape appeared to be weak in terms of connectivity, with a lot less forest cover and relatively more isolated Protected Areas. Northeast India had the largest proportion of forested land and therefore very diffused patterns of connectivity. The study identified 114 priority taluks in the country, where habitat consolidation or recovery had the potential to enhance dhole population connectivity.
The study suggests that efforts to maintain and improve dhole connectivity should be targeted towards vulnerable populations in the Western-Eastern Ghats and central Indian landscape, with particular focus on habitat patches and taluks that facilitate movement between the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats.
“We need targeted nationwide species conservation plans, which clearly link to management, species ecology, and connectivity. Our findings provide the basis for such a plan for the dhole,” said Divya Vasudev, Senior Scientist, Conservation Initiatives, and co-author of the study.
The study titled, Dog in the matrix: Envisioning countrywide connectivity conservation for an endangered carnivore, was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. The authors include Mr. Ryan G. Rodrigues (Wildlife Conservation Society–India and National Centre for Biological Sciences), Dr. Arjun Srivathsa (Wildlife Conservation Society–India and University of Florida, USA), and Dr. Divya Vasudev (Conservation Initiatives and Centre for Wildlife Studies).