Integrating aspects of ecology and predictive modelling: implications for the conservation of the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) in the Eastern Himalaya
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- Bashir, T., Bhattacharya, T., Poudyal, K. et al. Acta Theriol (2014) 59: 35. doi:10.1007/s13364-013-0145-x
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An understanding of species ecology is vital for effective conservation, particularly if the species forms an important constituent of the lesser mammal guild and regulates small mammal and bird populations. As the ecological role of the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) in the intricate eastern Himalayan habitats is not known, we assessed the site occupancy, detection probability and activity pattern of leopard cats in Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, India, based on sign surveys and camera trapping. The estimated site occupancy was 0.352 ± 0.061 and detection probability was 0.143 ± 0.0484. Occupancy modelling indicated low elevation, high rodent abundance and tree cover as best predictors for the occupancy of leopard cat. Diet based on analysed scats revealed murids as the most dominant prey (89.2 %). Information based on photographic captures indicated that the leopard cat exhibited a nocturnal activity pattern (peak activity between 0200–0300 hours), which coincided with its principal prey (revealed through diet analysis), but mainly contradicted with other sympatric competitors, hence indicating a temporal partitioning of resources among them. Ecological niche factor analysis indicated that the leopard cat exhibits high global marginality (1.32) and low global tolerance (0.275). The habitat suitability map for leopard cats showed majority of the habitat as unsuitable (1,959.44 km2) and predicted only 164.54 km2 areas of lower temperate forests as moderate to highly suitable. As highly suitable habitats of the leopard cat are in close proximity to villages, conflict issues are a major threat and therefore need to be addressed in conservation program for this felid.