BALDI Ricardo
Modeling the spatial structure of the endemic Mara (Dolichotis patagonum) across modified landscapes
PeerJ Inc.
Lugar: San Diego, CA; Año: 2019
Across modified landscapes anthropic factors can affect habitat selection by animals and consequently their abundance and distribution patterns. The study of the spatial structure of wild populations is crucial to gain knowledge on species? response to habitat quality, and a key for the design and implementation of conservation actions. This is particularly important for a low-density and widely distributed species such as the mara (Dolichotis patagonum), a large rodent endemic to Argentina across the Monte and Patagonian drylands where extensive sheep ranching predominates. We aimed to assess the spatial variation in the abundance of maras and to identify the natural and anthropic factors influencing the observed patterns in Península Valdés, a representative landscape of Patagonia. We conducted ground surveys during the austral autumn from 2015 to 2017. We built density surface models to account for the variation in mara abundance, and obtained a map of mara density at a resolution of 4 km2. We estimated an overall density of 0.93 for the prediction area of 3476 km2. The location of ranch buildings, indicators of human presence, had a strong positive effect on the abundance of maras, while the significant contribution of the geographic longitude suggests that mara density increases with higher rainfall. Although human presence favored mara abundance, presumably by providing protection against predators, it is likely that the association could bring negative consequences for maras and other species. The use of spatial models allowed us to provide the first estimate of mara abundance at a landscape scale and its spatial variation at a high resolution. Our approach can contribute to the assessment of mara population abundance and the factors shaping its spatial structure elsewhere across the species range, all crucial attributes to identify and prioritize conservation actions.