Habitat suitability models of mountain ungulates: identifying potential areas for conservation

Zool Stud. 2015 Apr 25;54:e37. doi: 10.1186/s40555-015-0116-9. eCollection 2015.


Background: Determining the distribution of species and of suitable habitats is a fundamental part of conservation planning. We used slope and ruggedness of the terrain, forest type and distance to the nearest village to construct habitat suitability maps for three mountain ungulates (barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), Himalayan goral (Naemorhedus goral) and Himalayan serow (Capricornis thar)) inthe midhills of western Nepal. We used locations of sightings and signs of presence of these mountain ungulates collected during surveys along transect to derive a suitability value for each variable using Jacob's index. A multiplication approach was used to combine environmental variables andproduce a habitat suitability map for each of the three species. An independent dataset was used to evaluate the maps using Boyce's index. This approach provides an overview of the probable distributions of the species in question.

Results: We predict that of the total area studied, 57% is suitable for M. muntjak, 67% for N. goral and 41% for C. thar. Although there are suitable habitats for all three species throughout the study area, the availability of high-quality habitats for these species varied considerably.

Conclusions: Suitable habitats for N. goral and C. thar were fragmented and mostly confined to the southern and northern parts of the study area. This study provides important baseline information for conservation biologists concerned with maintaining biodiversity in the midhills of Nepal.

Keywords: Capricornis thar; Habitat model; Midhills; Muntiacus muntjak; Naemorhedus goral; Nepal.