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, 9 (2), e88081

A Metapopulation Approach to African Lion (Panthera Leo) Conservation


A Metapopulation Approach to African Lion (Panthera Leo) Conservation

Stephanie Dolrenry et al. PLoS One.


Due to anthropogenic pressures, African lion (Panthera leo) populations in Kenya and Tanzania are increasingly limited to fragmented populations. Lions living on isolated habitat patches exist in a matrix of less-preferred habitat. A framework of habitat patches within a less-suitable matrix describes a metapopulation. Metapopulation analysis can provide insight into the dynamics of each population patch in reference to the system as a whole, and these analyses often guide conservation planning. We present the first metapopulation analysis of African lions. We use a spatially-realistic model to investigate how sex-biased dispersal abilities of lions affect patch occupancy and also examine whether human densities surrounding the remaining lion populations affect the metapopulation as a whole. Our results indicate that male lion dispersal ability strongly contributes to population connectivity while the lesser dispersal ability of females could be a limiting factor. When populations go extinct, recolonization will not occur if distances between patches exceed female dispersal ability or if females are not able to survive moving across the matrix. This has profound implications for the overall metapopulation; the female models showed an intrinsic extinction rate from five-fold to a hundred-fold higher than the male models. Patch isolation is a consideration for even the largest lion populations. As lion populations continue to decline and with local extinctions occurring, female dispersal ability and the proximity to the nearest lion population are serious considerations for the recolonization of individual populations and for broader conservation efforts.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Map of study area in Africa.
Darkened areas indicate patches of permanent lion populations (n = 25) across Kenya and Tanzania; black areas were considered occupied and striped areas were deemed unoccupied at time of survey.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Pairwise distances between 25 Kenya and Tanzania lion population patches.
Distance was calculated in kilometers, using data obtained during 2008–2010.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Probability of lion occurrence in identified lion population patches.
Occurrence was calculated on 25 habitat patches in Kenya and Tanzania based on the incidence function model for A) male dispersal using maximum observed distance, without human density, B) male dispersal using maximum observed distance with human density, C) female dispersal using maximum observed distance without human density, D) female dispersal using maximum observed distance with human density model, E) male dispersal using average of observed distances, without human density, F) male dispersal using average of observed distances with human density, G) female dispersal using average of observed distances without human density, H) female dispersal using average of observed distances with human density model. In plotting the results, we used color to show the predicted incidence with warmer colors (redder) showing higher probability of incidence and yellow to white showing lower probability of incidence.

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Grant support

The research was funded by National Science Foundation Fellowship Grant No. 2008058924 and Panthera Kaplan Awards. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.