Even with global support for tiger (Panthera tigris) conservation their survival is threatened by poaching, habitat loss and isolation. Currently about 3,000 wild tigers persist in small fragmented populations within seven percent of their historic range. Identifying and securing habitat linkages that connect source populations for maintaining landscape-level gene flow is an important long-term conservation strategy for endangered carnivores. However, habitat corridors that link regional tiger populations are often lost to development projects due to lack of objective evidence on their importance. Here, we use individual based genetic analysis in combination with landscape permeability models to identify and prioritize movement corridors across seven tiger populations within the Central Indian Landscape. By using a panel of 11 microsatellites we identified 169 individual tigers from 587 scat and 17 tissue samples. We detected four genetic clusters within Central India with limited gene flow among three of them. Bayesian and likelihood analyses identified 17 tigers as having recent immigrant ancestry. Spatially explicit tiger occupancy obtained from extensive landscape-scale surveys across 76,913 km2 of forest habitat was found to be only 21,290 km2. After accounting for detection bias, the covariates that best explained tiger occupancy were large, remote, dense forest patches; large ungulate abundance, and low human footprint. We used tiger occupancy probability to parameterize habitat permeability for modeling habitat linkages using least-cost and circuit theory pathway analyses. Pairwise genetic differences (FST) between populations were better explained by modeled linkage costs (r.0.5, p,0.05) compared to Euclidean distances, which was in consonance with observed habitat fragmentation. The results of our study highlight that many corridors may still be functional as there is evidence of contemporary migration. Conservation efforts should provide legal status to corridors, use smart green infrastructure to mitigate development impacts, and restore habitats where connectivity has been lost.
Yumnam B, Jhala YV, Qureshi Q, Maldonado JE, Gopal R, et al. (2014) Prioritizing Tiger Conservation through Landscape Genetics and Habitat Linkages. PLoS ONE 9(11): e111207. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111207