Habitat connectivity for endangered Indochinese tigers in Thailand

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Habitat connectivity is crucial for the conservation of species restricted to fragmented populations within human-dominated landscapes. However, identifying habitat connectivity for apex predators is challenging because trophic interactions between primary productivity and prey species influence both the distribution of habitats, and predator movement. Our goal was to assess habitat connectivity for Indochinese tigers (Panthera tigris) in Thailand. We quantified suitable habitat and dispersal corridors based an ensemble species distribution model that included prey distributions, primary productivity, and abiotic variables and was based on camera-trap data from 1996 to 2013 in 15 protected areas. We employed graph theory to evaluate the relative importance of habitat patches and dispersal corridors to the overall connectivity network. We found that tiger occurrence models with and without prey distributions performed well (Area Under the Curve: 0.932–0.954). However, inclusion of prey distributions significantly improved model performance (P < 0.001). Protected areas with tigers at the time of our surveys were highly isolated with high resistance to movement within the dispersal corridors, and four of them have lost their tiger populations since. Potential habitat patches outside of protected areas were also mostly isolated, but it was encouraging to find that there is ample potential habitat that tigers are not occupying. The Huai Kha Kaeng - ThungYai habitat patch and Kaeng Krachan dispersal corridor were the most important for overall habitat connectivity. Generally, integrating prey distributions into assessments of connectivity is a promising approach that can be widely applied to predict species occurrence and delineate dispersal corridors, thereby supporting conservation planning of tigers and other large carnivores.