M.Sc. Student, Environmental Studies Department, University of Montana
Location: Central America (Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica)
Research: Using the Jaguar for Biodiversity Conservation Planning in Central America
Species/Topic: Jaguar (Panthera onca)
|The jaguar (Panthera onca), the largest cat in the Americas, is declining through much of its range. The inability of protected areas to house viable populations of this species along with increasing threats to lands surrounding protected areas, are contributing to the slow disappearance of this great cat. The jaguar is a keystone, or umbrella, species throughout its range and is one of the most effective species to use for region-wide conservation planning as protecting areas for this species and its prey will result in protecting an array of different habitats and ecosystems in the region of interest. Currently, region-wide conservation efforts in Central America fail to highlight some key areas for jaguar conservation that have been identified by jaguar experts throughout Mesoamerica. This project seeks to ameliorate the discrepancies between these conservation efforts by using jaguar as focal species for conservation planning in Central America. This will be accomplished by mapping protected areas and prioritizing these areas for conservation efforts based upon trends of threatening landscape changes including deforestation, road building, and development and population growth.
Project Report: October 2004
Three main objectives were achieved in this project. First, the database on jaguar distribution throughout Central America produced from the 1999 WCS conference was updated with data compiled at the Conference for the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and Conservation held in El Salvador in October of 2001. These point observations were mapped along with updated ecosystem data for Central America.
The mapping and analysis were carried out using ArcGIS 8.2 software at a scale of 1:250,000. The study area encompasses Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
Figure 1. Jaguar Point Observations and Ecosystem Classes
Second, the database of areas considered imperative to the long-term conservation of jaguars from the 1999 conference was updated with data from the 2001 conference and mapped with jaguar linkage zones connecting them.
Figure 2. Jaguar Conservation Areas and Jaguar Linkage Zones
Third, a prioritization of these areas was carried out. It was necessary to use a different prioritization scheme from the 1999 conference as the 2001 conference data did not provide the same prioritization information, and because this study did not examine Central America within the nested hierarchy framework used in the 1999 analysis. Because jaguars are, and will face, increasing pressures with every passing day as a consequence of human development in the 21st century via direct hunting, hunting of their prey, and habitat conversion, human demographic trends were analyzed within the areas delineated in the second objective. These areas were then prioritized based upon rates of human population growth.
Figure 3. Prioritized Jaguar Conservation Areas and Jaguar Linkage Zones
These objectives aim to provide information on areas that are imperative to jaguar conservation in Central America, provide direction for further fine-tuning of jaguar conservation efforts, and to inspire on-the-ground conservation efforts that work towards the vision of a biological corridor through Central America, all the while, supporting the larger vision of a range-wide jaguar conservation program.