Testing the Role of Climate Change in Species Decline: Is the Eastern Quoll a Victim of a Change in the Weather?
ABSTRACT: To conserve a declining species we first need to diagnose the causes of decline. This is one of the most challenging tasks faced by conservation practitioners. In this study, we used temporally explicit species distribution models (SDMs) to test whether shifting weather can explain the recent decline of a marsupial carnivore, the eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus). We developed an SDM using weather variables matched to occurrence records of the eastern quoll over the last 60 years, and used the model to reconstruct variation through time in the distribution of climatically suitable range for the species. The weather model produced a meaningful prediction of the known distribution of the species. Abundance of quolls, indexed by transect counts, was positively related to the modelled area of suitable habitat between 1990 and 2004. In particular, a sharp decline in abundance from 2001 to 2003 coincided with a sustained period of unsuitable weather over much of the species' distribution. Since 2004, abundance has not recovered despite a return to suitable weather conditions, and abundance and area of suitable habitat have been uncorrelated. We suggest that fluctuations in weather account for the species' recent decline, but other unrelated factors have suppressed recovery.
Project description:The eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus) is a medium-sized Australian marsupial carnivore that has recently undergone a rapid and severe population decline over the 10 years to 2009, with no sign of recovery. This decline has been linked to a period of unfavourable weather, but subsequent improved weather conditions have not been matched by quoll recovery. A recent study suggested another mechanism: that declines in Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) populations, due to the spread of the fatal Devil Facial Tumour Disease, have released feral cats (Felis catus) from competitive suppression, with eastern quoll declines linked to a subsequent increase in cat sightings. Yet current evidence of intraguild suppression among devils, cats and quolls is scant and equivocal. We therefore assessed the influences of top-down effects on abundance and activity patterns among devils, feral cats and eastern quolls. Between 2011 and 2013, we monitored four carnivore populations using longitudinal trapping and camera surveys, and performed camera surveys at 12 additional sites throughout the eastern quoll's range. We did not find evidence of a negative relationship between devil and cat abundance, nor of higher cat abundance in areas where devil populations had declined the longest. Cats did not appear to avoid devils spatially; however, there was evidence of temporal separation of cat and devil activity, with reduced separation and increasing nocturnal activity observed in areas where devils had declined the longest. Cats and quolls used the same areas, and there was no evidence that cat and quoll abundances were negatively related. Temporal overlap in observed cat and quoll activity was higher in summer than in winter, but this seasonal difference was unrelated to devil declines. We suggest that cats did not cause the recent quoll decline, but that predation of juvenile quolls by cats could be inhibiting low density quoll populations from recovering their former abundance through a 'predator pit' effect following weather-induced decline. Predation intensity could increase further should cats become increasingly nocturnal in response to devil declines.
Project description:Australia's native marsupial fauna has just two primarily flesh-eating 'hypercarnivores', the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) and the spotted-tailed quoll (Dasyurus maculatus) which coexist only on the island of Tasmania. Devil populations are currently declining due to a fatal transmissible cancer. Our aim was to analyse the diet of both species across their range in Tasmania, as a basis for understanding how devil decline might affect the abundance and distribution of quolls through release from competition. We used faecal analysis to describe diets of one or both species at 13 sites across Tasmania. We compared diet composition and breadth between the two species, and tested for geographic patterns in diets related to rainfall and devil population decline. Dietary items were classified into 6 broad categories: large mammals (? 7.0kg), medium-sized mammals (0.5-6.9kg), small mammals (< 0.5kg), birds, reptiles and invertebrates. Diet overlap based on prey-size category was high. Quoll diets were broader than devils at all but one site. Devils consumed more large and medium-sized mammals and quolls more small mammals, reptiles and invertebrates. Medium-sized mammals (mainly Tasmanian pademelon Thylogale billardierii), followed by large mammals (mainly Bennett's wallaby Macropus rufogriseus) and birds, were the most important prey groups for both species. Diet composition varied across sites, suggesting that both species are flexible and opportunistic foragers, but was not related to rainfall for devils. Quolls included more large mammals but fewer small mammals and invertebrates in their diet in the eastern drier parts of Tasmania where devils have declined. This suggests that a competitive release of quolls may have occurred and the substantial decline of devils has provided more food in the large-mammal category for quolls, perhaps as increased scavenging opportunities. The high diet overlap suggests that if resources become limited in areas of high devil density, interspecific competition could occur.
Project description:Defining an acoustic repertoire is essential to understanding vocal signalling and communicative interactions within a species. Currently, quantitative and statistical definition is lacking for the vocalisations of many dasyurids, an important group of small to medium-sized marsupials from Australasia that includes the eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus), a species of conservation concern. Beyond generating a better understanding of this species' social interactions, determining an acoustic repertoire will further improve detection rates and inference of vocalisations gathered by automated bioacoustic recorders. Hence, this study investigated eastern quoll vocalisations using objective signal processing techniques to quantitatively analyse spectrograms recorded from 15 different individuals. Recordings were collected in conjunction with observations of the behaviours associated with each vocalisation to develop an acoustic-based behavioural repertoire for the species. Analysis of recordings produced a putative classification of five vocalisation types: Bark, Growl, Hiss, Cp-cp, and Chuck. These were most frequently observed during agonistic encounters between conspecifics, most likely as a graded sequence from Hisses occurring in a warning context through to Growls and finally Barks being given prior to, or during, physical confrontations between individuals. Quantitative and statistical methods were used to objectively establish the accuracy of these five putative call types. A multinomial logistic regression indicated a 97.27% correlation with the perceptual classification, demonstrating support for the five different vocalisation types. This putative classification was further supported by hierarchical cluster analysis and silhouette information that determined the optimal number of clusters to be five. Minor disparity between the objective and perceptual classifications was potentially the result of gradation between vocalisations, or subtle differences present within vocalisations not discernible to the human ear. The implication of these different vocalisations and their given context is discussed in relation to the ecology of the species and the potential application of passive acoustic monitoring techniques.
Project description:The Australian northern quoll is an important predatory marsupial carnivore that is currently endangered due to inappropriate fire regimes, predation, and the spread of invasive cane toads. The microbiota of Australian marsupials has not been extensively studied, but is thought to play a role in their health. This study provides an initial characterization of the cloacal microbiota of the northern quoll, as well as other marsupials including possums and kangaroos which were opportunistically sampled. The northern quoll cloaca microbiota was dominated by Enterococcus and Lactobacillus and had a relatively high proportion of members of the Proteobacteria phylum, which has been observed in other carnivorous marsupials. The diversity and structure of the microbiota was not influenced by presence of Chlamydiales which are intracellular bacteria and potential pathogens. The microbiota of the other marsupials was quite varied, which may be related to their health status. Characterization of the northern quoll microbiota will help to better understand the biology of this endangered animal.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Climate change is predicted to impact the transmission dynamics of vector-borne diseases. Tsetse flies (Glossina) transmit species of Trypanosoma that cause human and animal African trypanosomiasis. A previous modelling study showed that temperature increases between 1990 and 2017 can explain the observed decline in abundance of tsetse at a single site in the Mana Pools National Park of Zimbabwe. Here, we apply a mechanistic model of tsetse population dynamics to predict how increases in temperature may have changed the distribution and relative abundance of Glossina pallidipes across northern Zimbabwe. METHODS:Local weather station temperature measurements were previously used to fit the mechanistic model to longitudinal G. pallidipes catch data. To extend the use of the model, we converted MODIS land surface temperature to air temperature, compared the converted temperatures with available weather station data to confirm they aligned, and then re-fitted the mechanistic model using G. pallidipes catch data and air temperature estimates. We projected this fitted model across northern Zimbabwe, using simulations at a 1 km × 1 km spatial resolution, between 2000 to 2016. RESULTS:We produced estimates of relative changes in G. pallidipes mortality, larviposition, emergence rates and abundance, for northern Zimbabwe. Our model predicts decreasing tsetse populations within low elevation areas in response to increasing temperature trends during 2000-2016. Conversely, we show that high elevation areas (> 1000 m above sea level), previously considered too cold to sustain tsetse, may now be climatically suitable. CONCLUSIONS:To our knowledge, the results of this research represent the first regional-scale assessment of temperature related tsetse population dynamics, and the first high spatial-resolution estimates of this metric for northern Zimbabwe. Our results suggest that tsetse abundance may have declined across much of the Zambezi Valley in response to changing climatic conditions during the study period. Future research including empirical studies is planned to improve model accuracy and validate predictions for other field sites in Zimbabwe.
Project description:Phylogenetically closely related species are often assumed to have similar responses to environmental conditions, but species-specific responses have also been described. These two scenarios may have different conservation implications. We tested these two hypotheses for Prionailurus cats (P. rubiginosus, P. bengalensis, P. viverrinus) in the Indian subcontinent and show its implications on species current protected area coverage and climatic suitability trends through time. We fitted ecological niche models with current environmental conditions and calculated niche overlap. In addition, we developed a model for the Jungle Cat Felis chaus to compare species responses and niche overlap estimates within Prionailurus with those for a related sympatric small cat species. Then we estimated the proportion of current suitable environment covered by protected area and projected climatic models from past (last interglacial) to future (2070; RCP4.5 and RCP8.5) conditions to show implications on population management and conservation. The hypothesis of a similar response and niche overlap among closely related species is not supported. Protected area coverage was lowest for P. viverrinus (mean?=?0.071, SD?=?0.012) and highest for P. bengalensis (mean?=?0.088, SD?=?0.006). In addition, the proportion of the subcontinent with suitable climate varied through time and was species-specific. For P. bengalensis, climatic suitability shrunk since at least the mid-Holocene, a trend that can be intensified by human-induced climate warming. Concerning P. viverrinus, most predictions show stable future climatic suitability, but a few indicated potential loss. Climatic suitability for P. rubiginous was predicted to remain stable but the species exhibited a negative association with intensive agriculture. Similar responses to environmental change by phylogenetically closely related species should not be assumed and have implications on protected area coverage and natural trends of species climatic suitability over time. This should be taken into account during conservation and management actions.
Project description:Palms (Arecaceae) are a relatively speciose family and provide materials for food, construction, and handicraft, especially in the tropics. They are frequently used as paleo-indicators for megathermal climates, and therefore, it is logical to predict that palms will benefit from predicted warmer temperatures under anthropogenic climate change. We created species distribution models to explore the projected ranges of five widespread southeastern North American palm species (Rhapidophyllum hystrix, Sabal etonia, Sabal minor, Sabal palmetto, and Serenoa repens) under four climate change scenarios through 2070. We project that the amount of habitat with >50% suitability for S. etonia will decline by a median of 50% by 2070, while the amount of habitat with >50% suitability S. minor will decline by a median of 97%. In contrast, the amount of suitable habitat for Rhapidophyllum hystrix will remain stable, while the amount of suitable habitat for Serenoa repens will slightly increase. The projected distribution for S. palmetto will increase substantially, by a median of approximately 21% across all scenarios. The centroid of the range of each species will shift generally north at a median rate of 23.5 km/decade. These five palm species have limited dispersal ability and require a relatively long time to mature and set fruit. Consequently, it is likely that the change in the distribution of these palms will lag behind the projected changes in climate. However, Arecaceae can modify physiological responses to heat and drought, which may permit these palms to persist as local conditions become increasingly inappropriate. Nonetheless, this plasticity is unlikely to indefinitely prevent local extinctions.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Accurate predictions of species distributions are essential for climate change impact assessments. However the standard practice of using long-term climate averages to train species distribution models might mute important temporal patterns of species distribution. The benefit of using temporally explicit weather and distribution data has not been assessed. We hypothesized that short-term weather associated with the time a species was recorded should be superior to long-term climate measures for predicting distributions of mobile species. METHODOLOGY: We tested our hypothesis by generating distribution models for 157 bird species found in Australian tropical savannas (ATS) using modelling algorithm Maxent. The variable weather of the ATS supports a bird assemblage with variable movement patterns and a high incidence of nomadism. We developed "weather" models by relating climatic variables (mean temperature, rainfall, rainfall seasonality and temperature seasonality) from the three month, six month and one year period preceding each bird record over a 58 year period (1950-2008). These weather models were compared against models built using long-term (30 year) averages of the same climatic variables. CONCLUSIONS: Weather models consistently achieved higher model scores than climate models, particularly for wide-ranging, nomadic and desert species. Climate models predicted larger range areas for species, whereas weather models quantified fluctuations in habitat suitability across months, seasons and years. Models based on long-term climate averages over-estimate availability of suitable habitat and species' climatic tolerances, masking species potential vulnerability to climate change. Our results demonstrate that dynamic approaches to distribution modelling, such as incorporating organism-appropriate temporal scales, improves understanding of species distributions.
Project description:Climate change will cause geographic range shifts for pollinators and major crops, with global implications for food security and rural livelihoods. However, little is known about the potential for coupled impacts of climate change on pollinators and crops. Coffee production exemplifies this issue, because large losses in areas suitable for coffee production have been projected due to climate change and because coffee production is dependent on bee pollination. We modeled the potential distributions of coffee and coffee pollinators under current and future climates in Latin America to understand whether future coffee-suitable areas will also be suitable for pollinators. Our results suggest that coffee-suitable areas will be reduced 73-88% by 2050 across warming scenarios, a decline 46-76% greater than estimated by global assessments. Mean bee richness will decline 8-18% within future coffee-suitable areas, but all are predicted to contain at least 5 bee species, and 46-59% of future coffee-suitable areas will contain 10 or more species. In our models, coffee suitability and bee richness each increase (i.e., positive coupling) in 10-22% of future coffee-suitable areas. Diminished coffee suitability and bee richness (i.e., negative coupling), however, occur in 34-51% of other areas. Finally, in 31-33% of the future coffee distribution areas, bee richness decreases and coffee suitability increases. Assessing coupled effects of climate change on crop suitability and pollination can help target appropriate management practices, including forest conservation, shade adjustment, crop rotation, or status quo, in different regions.
Project description:Contemporary climate change has been widely documented as the apparent cause of range contraction at the edge of many species distributions but documentation of climate change as a cause of extirpation and fragmentation of the interior of a species' core habitat has been lacking. Here, we report the extirpation of the American pika (Ochotona princeps), a temperature-sensitive small mammal, from a 165-km2 area located within its core habitat in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. While sites surrounding the area still maintain pikas, radiocarbon analyses of pika fecal pellets recovered within this area indicate that former patch occupancy ranges from before 1955, the beginning of the atmospheric spike in radiocarbon associated with above ground atomic bomb testing, to c. 1991. Despite an abundance of suitable rocky habitat climate warming appears to have precipitated their demise. Weather station data reveal a 1.9°C rise in local temperature and a significant decline in snowpack over the period of record, 1910-2015, pushing pika habitat into increasingly tenuous climate conditions during the period of extirpation. This is among the first accounts of an apparently climate-mediated, modern extirpation of a species from an interior portion of its geographic distribution, resulting in habitat fragmentation, and is the largest area yet reported for a modern-era pika extirpation. Our finding provides empirical support to model projections, indicating that even core areas of species habitat are vulnerable to climate change within a timeframe of decades.