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Identifying Conservation Successes, Failures and Future Opportunities; Assessing Recovery Potential of Wild Ungulates and Tigers in Eastern Cambodia

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      Abstract

      Conservation investment, particularly for charismatic and wide-ranging large mammal species, needs to be evidence-based. Despite the prevalence of this theme within the literature, examples of robust data being generated to guide conservation policy and funding decisions are rare. We present the first published case-study of tiger conservation in Indochina, from a site where an evidence-based approach has been implemented for this iconic predator and its prey. Despite the persistence of extensive areas of habitat, Indochina's tiger and ungulate prey populations are widely supposed to have precipitously declined in recent decades. The Seima Protection Forest (SPF), and broader Eastern Plains Landscape, was identified in 2000 as representing Cambodia's best hope for tiger recovery; reflected in its designation as a Global Priority Tiger Conservation Landscape. Since 2005 distance sampling, camera-trapping and detection-dog surveys have been employed to assess the recovery potential of ungulate and tiger populations in SPF. Our results show that while conservation efforts have ensured that small but regionally significant populations of larger ungulates persist, and density trends in smaller ungulates are stable, overall ungulate populations remain well below theoretical carrying capacity. Extensive field surveys failed to yield any evidence of tiger, and we contend that there is no longer a resident population within the SPF. This local extirpation is believed to be primarily attributable to two decades of intensive hunting; but importantly, prey densities are also currently below the level necessary to support a viable tiger population. Based on these results and similar findings from neighbouring sites, Eastern Cambodia does not currently constitute a Tiger Source Site nor meet the criteria of a Global Priority Tiger Landscape. However, SPF retains global importance for many other elements of biodiversity. It retains high regional importance for ungulate populations and potentially in the future for Indochinese tigers, given adequate prey and protection.

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      Most cited references 11

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      Distance software: design and analysis of distance sampling surveys for estimating population size

      1.Distance sampling is a widely used technique for estimating the size or density of biological populations. Many distance sampling designs and most analyses use the software Distance. 2.We briefly review distance sampling and its assumptions, outline the history, structure and capabilities of Distance, and provide hints on its use. 3.Good survey design is a crucial prerequisite for obtaining reliable results. Distance has a survey design engine, with a built-in geographic information system, that allows properties of different proposed designs to be examined via simulation, and survey plans to be generated. 4.A first step in analysis of distance sampling data is modelling the probability of detection. Distance contains three increasingly sophisticated analysis engines for this: conventional distance sampling, which models detection probability as a function of distance from the transect and assumes all objects at zero distance are detected; multiple-covariate distance sampling, which allows covariates in addition to distance; and mark–recapture distance sampling, which relaxes the assumption of certain detection at zero distance. 5.All three engines allow estimation of density or abundance, stratified if required, with associated measures of precision calculated either analytically or via the bootstrap. 6.Advanced analysis topics covered include the use of multipliers to allow analysis of indirect surveys (such as dung or nest surveys), the density surface modelling analysis engine for spatial and habitat modelling, and information about accessing the analysis engines directly from other software. 7. Synthesis and applications. Distance sampling is a key method for producing abundance and density estimates in challenging field conditions. The theory underlying the methods continues to expand to cope with realistic estimation situations. In step with theoretical developments, state-of-the-art software that implements these methods is described that makes the methods accessible to practising ecologists.
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        The need for evidence-based conservation.

        Much of current conservation practice is based upon anecdote and myth rather than upon the systematic appraisal of the evidence, including experience of others who have tackled the same problem. We suggest that this is a major problem for conservationists and requires a rethinking of the manner in which conservation operates. There is an urgent need for mechanisms that review available information and make recommendations to practitioners. We suggest a format for web-based databases that could provide the required information in accessible form.
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          Multiple causes of high extinction risk in large mammal species.

          Many large animal species have a high risk of extinction. This is usually thought to result simply from the way that species traits associated with vulnerability, such as low reproductive rates, scale with body size. In a broad-scale analysis of extinction risk in mammals, we find two additional patterns in the size selectivity of extinction risk. First, impacts of both intrinsic and environmental factors increase sharply above a threshold body mass around 3 kilograms. Second, whereas extinction risk in smaller species is driven by environmental factors, in larger species it is driven by a combination of environmental factors and intrinsic traits. Thus, the disadvantages of large size are greater than generally recognized, and future loss of large mammal biodiversity could be far more rapid than expected.
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ]Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia Program, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
            [2 ]Forestry Administration, Royal Government of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
            [3 ]Wildlife Conservation Society Global Conservation Program, Bronx, New York, United States of America
            [4 ]Imperial College London, Division of Biology, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, Berks, United Kingdom
            [5 ]Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London, United Kingdom
            [6 ]Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
            Texas A&M University, United States of America
            Author notes

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

            Conceived and designed the experiments: HJO EJS TJC JW. Performed the experiments: HJO AD NM. Analyzed the data: HJO. Wrote the paper: HJO TDE EJS. Assisted with management of experiments: MG EHBP MS.

            Contributors
            Role: Editor
            Journal
            PLoS One
            PLoS ONE
            plos
            plosone
            PLoS ONE
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
            1932-6203
            2012
            15 October 2012
            : 7
            : 10
            23077476
            3471919
            PONE-D-12-04670
            10.1371/journal.pone.0040482
            (Editor)

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

            Counts
            Pages: 10
            Funding
            Sources of funding for this biological monitoring program were (in alphabetical order): Asian Development Bank; Eleanor Briggs; East Asia and Pacific Environmental Initiative, an initiative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); Elyssa Kellerman, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; The Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation; Panthera; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. HJOK is also supported by an ESRC/NERC research studentship. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
            Categories
            Research Article
            Biology
            Ecology
            Ecological Metrics
            Extinction Risk
            Biodiversity
            Community Ecology
            Conservation Science
            Population Ecology
            Restoration Ecology
            Spatial and Landscape Ecology
            Species Extinction
            Terrestrial Ecology
            Population Biology
            Population Ecology
            Veterinary Science
            Animal Types
            Large Animals

            Uncategorized

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