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Threatened Lynx Are Understudied by Scientists: Report

Mar 26, 2015 02:45 PM EDT
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Lynx and other big cats belonging to the family Felidae are currently threatened with habitat loss and fragmentation, and yet these animals are largely understudied by scientists, hindering any possible conservation efforts, according to a new report.

Almost half of the 36 species of felids that live in the wild in the world are at risk, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) - especially the Iberian lynx, the most threatened out of all these felines. The future of this critically endangered species grows more and more bleak as its native habitat continues to shrink and be broken up by human activity. Meanwhile, the new study has only been able to find 162 scientific articles regarding this threat towards lynx.

To assess the situation of the Iberian lynx and other felid species that live in the wild on our planet, a team of Brazilian and Spanish scientists has reviewed the scientific literature that exists on loss and fragmentation of their habitats - the main threat to these mammals.

"These figures clearly indicate that in general there is a lack of knowledge on this topic, which especially affects felid conservation. Without proper scientific knowledge it is hard to set up effective conservation strategies," Francisco Palomares, one of the researchers, said in a statement.

So why aren't scientists more concerned that habitat loss threatens the world's felids? According to the new study, it's not that they aren't concerned, but rather it's due to "the lack of both financing for research and communication between managers and researchers," said Palomares.

To their credit, North America and Europe generate the greatest amount of research on the effect of habitat loss on felids, the researchers note. However, due to the lack of research in countries with less economic resources, the real effect of this threat is still unknown for 16 species of felids. This includes the Andean mountain cat (Leopardus jacobita), the Bornean bay cat (Pardofelis badia), the flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps), and the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus). Unfortunately, despite the fact that these species are on the verge of extinction, they have been largely understudied, which limits the establishment of effective conservation strategies. (Scroll to read on...)

As mentioned, the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) is the most concerning out of all the felids. Having decreased steadily in population numbers over the last 200 years, there are now only two confirmed small and isolated breeding populations, both in southern Spain, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Their population is estimated to be between 84 and 143 adults.

There are real fears that it may soon become the first cat species to become extinct in at least 2,000 years.

Currently, conservation strategies for the Iberian lynx consist of connecting isolated populations via ecological corridors. But to make these efforts more effective, the researchers recommend conducting more research on differentiating habitat loss from the effects of fragmentation using theoretical scenarios; selecting priority areas for conservation, and analyzing the consequences of habitat loss.

"Felid conservationists must start to design more theoretical projects and apply the new tools and methodologies available in research on landscape and wildlife," they concluded.

What's more, habitat loss may be the biggest threat to these large cats, but it's not the only threat. Not only are felids running out of space, but their food resources - mainly rabbits - are running low. They are also being hunted for their fur and meat and getting hit by cars. The authors of the study argue that conservation efforts need to step up their game if felids are to survive in this world.

The results were published in the journal Oryx.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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