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We follow the footsteps of the North China leopard

We follow the footsteps of the North China leopard

The North China leopard lives in the central part of the Taihang Mountains in Northern China. Credit: Xiao Shibai, Song Dazhao/Maomeng

The North China leopard (Panthera pardus japonensis), one of the world’s nine subspecies of leopards, is endemic to China and is mainly distributed in the northern parts of the country. Due to human activities, the species has undergone significant range contraction and population decline.

To help protect the endangered big cat and inform its future conservation planning, researchers from Peking University’s School of Life Sciences worked with collaborators to map the animal’s suitable habitats and investigate the connectivity between its core habitats.

Their findings were recently published in Landscape ecologytitled “Big cats persist in human-dominated landscapes: habitat suitability and connectivity of leopards in central northern China.”

The North China leopard is crucial to the ecosystem in North China because it is an apex predator and the only large carnivore in the area. Due to hunting and habitat loss, the population has declined, with a total population of less than 400 according to statistics.

The North China leopard is categorized as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and as Endangered (EN) on the Red List of China.

Previous studies have shown that the species is preserved in several locations in northern China, indicating the potential for recovery of the species in the human-dominated landscapes of this vast area.

  • We follow the footsteps of the North China leopard

    The study area and locations of occurrence (N = 196) of the North China leopard in North China (2014–2020). The Global Human Modification (GHM) index (map background) is from Kennedy et al. Credit: Landscape ecology (2024). DOI: 10.1007/s10980-024-01896-y

  • We follow the footsteps of the North China leopard

    Habitat connectivity between core habitats (a) and bottlenecks identified in the potential corridors (b). LCPs: routes with the lowest costs. Black numbers indicate the ID of the potential corridors and core habitats, respectively. The insert map in a is enlarged as b to show the details of the bottlenecks in the potential corridors. The base map in b is from ESRI, where the light green spots indicate contiguous forests. Credit: Landscape ecology (2024). DOI: 10.1007/s10980-024-01896-y

The research shows that the North China leopard prefers locations with higher altitudes, higher humidity and lower human presence.

The habitats of the big cats are highly fragmented. The study identified 14 habitats covering a total area of ​​6,933 square kilometers and eight potential distribution corridors totaling 57.22 kilometers. The main core habitats are located in Shanxi, Shaanxi and the border between Gansu and Ningxia provinces.

The study concludes that fragmentation of northern China’s leopard habitats is severe and connections between different habitats are weak.

Based on the research, it is recommended to strengthen cooperation between different protected areas and administrative districts.

Monitoring of leopard species also needs to be strengthened to find ways to improve connectivity between different habitats and the effectiveness of corridors.

More information:
Yidan Wang et al., Big cats persist in human-dominated landscapes: habitat suitability and leopard connectivity in central North China, Landscape ecology (2024). DOI: 10.1007/s10980-024-01896-y

Provided by Peking University

Quote: Tracing the paw steps of the North China leopard (2024, May 20) retrieved May 20, 2024 from https://phys.org/news/2024-05-pawsteps-north-china-leopard.html

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