Today, most wild tigers live in small, isolated Protected Areas within human dominated landscapes in the Indian subcontinent. Future survival of tigers depends on increasing local population size, as well as maintaining connectivity between populations. While significant conservation effort has been invested in increasing tiger population size, few initiatives have focused on landscape-level connectivity and on understanding the effect different landscape elements have on maintaining connectivity. We combined individual-based genetic and landscape ecology approaches to address this issue in six protected areas with varying tiger densities and separation in the Central Indian tiger landscape. We noninvasively sampled 55 tigers from different protected areas within this landscape. Maximum-likelihood and Bayesian genetic assignment tests indicate long-range tiger dispersal (on the order of 650 km) between protected areas. Further geo-spatial analyses revealed that tiger connectivity was affected by landscape elements such as human settlements, road density and host-population tiger density, but not by distance between populations. Our results elucidate the importance of landscape and habitat viability outside and between protected areas and provide a quantitative approach to test functionality of tiger corridors. We suggest future management strategies aim to minimize urban expansion between protected areas to maximize tiger connectivity. Achieving this goal in the context of ongoing urbanization and need to sustain current economic growth exerts enormous pressure on the remaining tiger habitats and emerges as a big challenge to conserve wild tigers in the Indian subcontinent.
Joshi A, Vaidyanathan S, Mondol S, Edgaonkar A, Ramakrishnan U (2013) Connectivity of Tiger (Panthera tigris) Populations in the Human-Influenced Forest Mosaic of Central India. PLoS ONE 8(11): e77980. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0077980