Journal of Resources and Ecology ›› 2022, Vol. 13 ›› Issue (3): 483-500.DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764x.2022.03.013

• Animal Ecology • Previous Articles     Next Articles

How Snow Leopards Share the Same Landscape with Tibetan Agro-pastoral Communities in the Chinese Himalayas

XIAO Changxi1,2,3(), BAI Defeng1,2, Joseph P. LAMBERT1, LI Yibin3, Lhaba CERING4, GONG Ziling2,5, Philip RIORDAN1,6, SHI Kun1,3,*()   

  1. 1. Wildlife Institute, School of Ecology and Nature Conservation, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing 100083, China
    2. Everest Snow Leopard Conservation Center, Rikaze, Tibet 857000, China
    3. Eco-Bridge Continental, Beijing 100085, China
    4. Qomolangma National Nature Reserve Administration, Rikaze, Tibet 857000, China
    5. Vanke Foundation, Shenzhen, Guangdong 518000, China
    6. Marwell Wildlife, Winchester SO21 1JH, UK
  • Received:2021-04-16 Accepted:2574-07-12 Online:2022-05-30 Published:2022-04-18
  • Contact: SHI Kun
  • About author:XIAO Changxi, E-mail: lzxiaocx@gmail.com

Abstract:

The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) inhabits a human-altered alpine landscape and is often tolerated by residents in regions where the dominant religion is Tibetan Buddhism, including in Qomolangma NNR on the northern side of the Chinese Himalayas. Despite these positive attitudes, many decades of rapid economic development and population growth can cause increasing disturbance to the snow leopards, altering their habitat use patterns and ultimately impacting their conservation. We adopted a dynamic landscape ecology perspective and used multi- scale technique and occupancy model to better understand snow leopard habitat use and coexistence with humans in an 825 km2 communal landscape. We ranked eight hypothetical models containing potential natural and anthropogenic drivers of habitat use and compared them between summer and winter seasons within a year. HABITAT was the optimal model in winter, whereas ANTHROPOGENIC INFLUENCE was the top ranking in summer (AICcw≤2). Overall, model performance was better in the winter than in the summer, suggesting that perhaps some latent summer covariates were not measured. Among the individual variables, terrain ruggedness strongly affected snow leopard habitat use in the winter, but not in the summer. Univariate modeling suggested snow leopards prefer to use rugged land in winter with a broad scale (4000 m focal radius) but with a lesser scale in summer (30 m); Snow leopards preferred habitat with a slope of 22° at a scale of 1000 m throughout both seasons, which is possibly correlated with prey occurrence. Furthermore, all covariates mentioned above showed inextricable ties with human activities (presence of settlements and grazing intensity). Our findings show that multiple sources of anthropogenic activity have complex connections with snow leopard habitat use, even under low human density when anthropogenic activities are sparsely distributed across a vast landscape. This study is also valuable for habitat use research in the future, especially regarding covariate selection for finite sample sizes in inaccessible terrain.

Key words: habitat use, landscape ecology, occupancy model, Qomolangma, Panthera uncia