Friday, January 4, 2013

[Conservation • 2012] Conservation and Climate Change: Assessing the vulnerability of Snow Leopard habitat to Treeline Shift in the Himalaya | Protecting Snow Leopards in the Face of Climate Change

A new WWF study reveals the likely impacts of global climate change on snow leopard habitat in the Himalayas.

Climate change is likely to affect the persistence of large, space-requiring species through habitat shifts, loss, and fragmentation. Anthropogenic land and resource use changes related to climate change can also impact the survival of wildlife. Thus, climate change has to be integrated into biodiversity conservation plans. We developed a hybrid approach to climate-adaptive conservation landscape planning for snow leopards in the Himalayan Mountains. We first mapped current snow leopard habitat using a mechanistic approach that incorporated field-based data, and then combined it with a climate impact model using a correlative approach. For the latter, we used statistical methods to test hypotheses about climatic drivers of treeline in the Himalaya and its potential response to climate change under three IPCC greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. We then assessed how change in treeline might affect the distribution of snow leopard habitat. Results indicate that about 30% of snow leopard habitat in the Himalaya may be lost due to a shifting treeline and consequent shrinking of the alpine zone, mostly along the southern edge of the range and in river valleys. But, a considerable amount of snow leopard habitat and linkages are likely to remain resilient to climate change, and these should be secured. This is because, as the area of snow leopard habitat fragments and shrinks, threats such as livestock grazing, retaliatory killing, and medicinal plant collection can intensify. We propose this approach for landscape conservation planning for other species with extensive spatial requirements that can also be umbrella species for overall biodiversity.

 Highlights ► Climate change is expected to affect persistence of species populations. ► We modeled climate impacts on snow leopard habitat. ► About 30% of snow leopard habitat in the Himalaya may be lost to a rising treeline. ► Resilient habitat should be secured for a climate-integrated conservation strategy. 

Keywords: Snow leopard; Climate adaptation; Conservation planning; Endangered species; Climate change; Himalaya


Protecting Snow Leopards in the Face of Climate Change
For the endangered animals of our planet—like the rare and regal snow leopard—climate change means much more than hotter days and intensified storms. These creatures face the prospect of a significant transformation of the habitats that sustain them. 

A new WWF study raises concerns about the possible impact of global climate change on snow leopard habitat. This elusive, solitary cat—with an estimated population between 4,000 and 6,500— lives across a vast area of northern and central Asia, including the Himalayan Mountains. In the Himalayas, snow leopards live in high alpine areas above treeline and generally below 16,000 feet, where they stealthily track their prey.

The WWF study indicates that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase steadily, 30 percent of snow leopard habitat in the Himalayas may be lost to shifts in its treeline habitat.

A snow leopard feeds on a Himalayan blue sheep in the Ghunsa Valley of the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area in Nepal.

Protecting Snow Leopards in the Face of Climate Change | Stories | WWF

Jessica L. Forrest, Eric Wikramanayake, Rinjan Shrestha, Gopala Areendran, Kinley Gyeltshen, Aishwarya Maheshwari, Sraboni Mazumdar, Robin Naidoo, Gokarna Jung Thapa & Kamal Thapa. 2012. Conservation and climate change: Assessing the vulnerability of snow leopard habitat to treeline shift in the Himalaya. Biological Conservation.150 (1), 129–135.