Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 1 - CONTRASST (Landscape connectivity for Cat species: transcending structures, scales and climates)

Anthropogenic pressures drive global biodiversity loss. The loss of landscape connectivity, further exacerbated by climate change, is a key driver of species decline. Hence, it is crucial to identify key elements that ensure landscape connectivity across landscapes and scales. Against this backdrop, the EU-funded project CONTRASST - Landscape connectivity for cat species: transcending structures, scales and climates ( aims to establish an integrative eco-physiological approach across scales, from local to continental, to predict functional connectivity for wild felids.

So far, the following are CONTRASST’s main achievements: 1) creation of a Fur Repository at Trent University with over 55,000 fur samples from ten different species across North America, and build-up of the respective databases; 2) integration of lynx eco-physiological data with environmental data and maps to feed landscape level analyses in North America; 3) publication of six scientific papers, several popular articles and media releases; and 4) production of a technical report written for the Fur industry (NAFA) and the Ontario provincial government (OMNRF) with a summary of the main outcomes of the collaboration established between NAFA, Trent University and the OMNRF since its inception in 2009.

The most significant scientific results obtained during the first two years of CONTRASST (outgoing phase) relate to the determination of lynx critical thresholds to environmental pressures using an eco-physiological approach, and the assessment of the role of elevational barriers across western North America limiting lynx population connectivity. Two innovative studies emerged from the eco-physiological component that identified temperature and forest cover as the factors with the highest influence on lynx cortisol levels across the species’ northern distribution range. An extended analysis including diet specialization (as assessed by stable isotopes) determined that this factor, as well as latitude, were also important variables explaining variation in lynx cortisol. Hair cortisol demonstrated a gradient pattern where colder (and increasingly northern) regions had higher values, probably due to the need for higher energy metabolism by individuals adapting to the demands of dealing with the harsher conditions of winter, whereas they decreased with higher percentage of forest cover. These results are consistent with findings from existing habitat selection studies in lynx, which indicate that their distribution is associated with dense regenerating forests (lower latitudes), where alternative prey is available. To our knowledge this research represents one of the first attempts to look at potential large-scale sources of stress across a species’ distribution range using hair hormone analysis and to merge chronic stress with diet data in an effort to gain a physiological perspective on prey choice in felids. Coupled with connectivity analyses that highlighted the potential for natural barriers (such as the Rocky Mountains) to become strong drivers of lynx genetic differentiation under climate change, these findings have contributed to determine ecological thresholds for lynx populations to survive under habitat fragmentation and climate change.

During the remaining period of the project, we plan to develop guidelines for maintaining or restoring connectivity across landscape structures, scales and climates and to offer information of direct relevance to the conservation and management of terrestrial habitats, and for ecological restoration, considering also socio-economic impacts and implications.

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Life Sciences
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