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Assessing tiger corridor functionality with landscape genetics and modelling across Terai-Arc landscape, India

Abstract

India led the global tiger conservation initiatives and has doubled its wild tiger population to 2967 (2603–3346) since 2006. As the extant habitats are shrinking continuously, the persistence of these growing populations can only be ensured through focused landscape-scale conservation planning across all the existing tiger landscapes of Indian. We used intensive field-sampling, genetic analyses and GIS modelling to investigate tiger population structure, source-recipient dynamics and functionality of the existing corridors across the Indian part of Terai-Arc landscape (TAL). Using a 13 microsatellite marker panel we identified 219 individual tigers across Indian TAL. Further genetic analyses revealed three weakly, but significantly differentiated tiger subpopulations, termed as ‘Tiger Genetic Blocks (TGBs)’. Genetic migrant detection and gene flow analyses distinguished seven source and 10 recipient areas within this landscape. Circuitscape analyses ascertained total 19 (10 high, three medium and six low conductance) corridors across this landscape, of which 10 require immediate conservation attention. Overall, the tiger populations residing in the western, central and eastern TAL still maintain functional connectivity through these corridors. We suggest urgent management plan involving habitat recovery and protection of ~ 2700 sq. km. identified area to establish landscape connectivity. Further, mitigation measures associated with ongoing linear infrastructure developments and transboundary coordination with Nepal will ensure habitat and genetic connectivity and long-term sustainability of tigers in this globally important landscape.

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Data availability

The data generated in this study is available in Dryad (https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.crjdfn32z).

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the Forest Departments of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for providing necessary permits to carry out the research. Our thanks to the Forest Department officials and frontline staffs for their support and assistance during field surveys. We acknowledge help from Annu, Bura, Abbhi, Ranjhu, Ammi, Inam, Imam, Shrutarshi, Shiv, Tista, Shrushti, Prajak, Harshvardhan, Lakhshminarayan, Ankit, Rakesh, Sultan and Nimisha for their help during field surveys. We appreciate technical help from Tista, Zenab, Aamir and Madhanraj (laboratory work) and other lab members. We thank the Director, Dean and Nodal Officer of Wildlife Forensics and Conservation Genetics Cell of Wildlife Institute of India for their support. This research was funded by Wildlife Conservation Trust-Panthera Global Cat Alliance Grants and Department of Science and Technology, Government of India (Grant No. EMR/2014/000982). Samrat Mondol was supported by the Department of Science and Technology INSPIRE Faculty Award (Grant No. IFA12-LSBM-47).

Funding

This research was funded by Wildlife Conservation Trust-Panthera Global Cat Alliance Grants and Department of Science and Technology, Government of India (Grant No EMR/2014/000982). Samrat Mondol was supported by the Department of Science and Technology INSPIRE Faculty Award (Grant No. IFA12-LSBM-47). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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Contributions

SM and BP conceived the study idea, generated funds and supervised the study. GT supervised the GIS analysis. SB and SB performed the sampling and data generation. Data was analysed by SB (molecular and GIS data), DS (GIS). SM, SB and BP wrote the initial manuscript and all authors approved the final draft.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Bivash Pandav or Samrat Mondol.

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The authors have not disclosed any competing interests.

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Supplementary Information

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Supplementary file1 (JPG 380 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 1: Effort of ~9500 km of foot survey for large carnivore faecal sampling across Indian TAL.

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Supplementary Fig. 2: The locations of large carnivore faeces across Indian TAL.

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Supplementary Fig. 3: The locations of genetically identified tiger faecal samples across Indian TAL.

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Supplementary Fig. 4: Genetic clustering of tiger data using DAPC approach showing three genetic subpopulations representing TGB I, TGB II and TGB III, respectively.

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Supplementary Fig. 5: Pattern of isolation-by-distance (IBD) in tiger populations of Indian TAL.

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Supplementary Fig. 6: Spatial auto-correlation pattern in tiger populations of Indian TAL.

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Supplementary Fig. 7: Responses of environmental variables which govern tiger dispersal.

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Supplementary Fig. 8: The average training AUC for the replicate runs and standard deviation.

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Supplementary file13 (DOCX 24 kb)

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Biswas, S., Bhatt, S., Sarkar, D. et al. Assessing tiger corridor functionality with landscape genetics and modelling across Terai-Arc landscape, India. Conserv Genet 23, 949–966 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-022-01460-8

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Keywords

  • Tiger dispersal
  • Source-recipient dynamics
  • Panthera tigris tigris
  • Landscape connectivity
  • Anthropogenic impacts
  • Priority conservation areas