Cushman, SA; Elliot, NB; Macdonald, DW and Loveridge, AJ (2016): A multi-scale assessment of population connectivity in African lions (Panthera leo) in response to landscape change. LANDSCAPE ECOLOGY, 31 (6):1337-1353; 10.1007/s10980-015-0292-3 AUG 2016
Abstract: Habitat loss and fragmentation are among the major drivers of population declines and extinction, particularly in large carnivores. Connectivity models provide practical tools for assessing fragmentation effects and developing mitigation or conservation responses. To be useful to conservation practitioners, connectivity models need to incorporate multiple scales and include realistic scenarios based on potential changes to habitat and anthropogenic pressures. This will help to prioritize conservation efforts in a changing landscape. The goal of our paper was to evaluate differences in population connectivity for lions (Panthera leo) across the Kavango-Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area (KAZA) under different landscape change scenarios and a range of dispersal distances. We used an empirically optimized resistance surface, based on analysis of movement pathways of dispersing lions in southern Africa to calculate resistant kernel connectivity. We assessed changes in connectivity across nine landscape change scenarios, under each of which we explored the behaviour of lions with eight different dispersal abilities. Our results demonstrate that reductions in the extent of the protected area network and/or fencing protected areas will result in large declines in the extent of population connectivity, across all modelled dispersal abilities. Creation of corridors or erection of fences strategically placed to funnel dispersers between protected areas increased overall connectivity of the population. Our results strongly suggest that the most effective means of maintaining long-term population connectivity of lions in the KAZA region involves retaining the current protected area network, augmented with protected corridors or strategic fencing to direct dispersing individuals towards suitable habitat and away from potential conflict areas.