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In Scientific reports ; h5-index 158.0

Tigers and leopards have experienced considerable declines in their population due to habitat loss and fragmentation across their historical ranges. Multi-scale habitat suitability models (HSM) can inform forest managers to aim their conservation efforts at increasing the suitable habitat for tigers by providing information regarding the scale-dependent habitat-species relationships. However the current gap of knowledge about ecological relationships driving species distribution reduces the applicability of traditional and classical statistical approaches such as generalized linear models (GLMs), or occupancy surveys to produce accurate predictive maps. This study investigates the multi-scale habitat relationships of tigers and leopards and the impacts of future climate change on their distribution using a machine-learning algorithm random forest (RF). The recent advancements in the machine-learning algorithms provide a powerful tool for building accurate predictive models of species distribution and their habitat relationships even when little ecological knowledge is available about the species. We collected species occurrence data using camera traps and indirect evidence of animal presences (scats) in the field over 2 years of rigorous sampling and used a machine-learning algorithm random forest (RF) to predict the habitat suitability maps of tiger and leopard under current and future climatic scenarios. We developed niche overlap models based on the recently developed statistical approaches to assess the patterns of niche similarity between tigers and leopards. Tiger and leopard utilized habitat resources at the broadest spatial scales (28,000 m). Our model predicted a 23% loss in the suitable habitat of tigers under the RCP 8.5 Scenario (2050). Our study of multi-scale habitat suitability modeling provides valuable information on the species habitat relationships in disturbed and human-dominated landscapes concerning two large felid species of conservation importance. These areas may act as refugee habitats for large carnivores in the future and thus should be the focus of conservation importance. This study may also provide a methodological framework for similar multi-scale and multi-species monitoring programs using robust and more accurate machine learning algorithms such as random forest.

Rather Tahir A, Kumar Sharad, Khan Jamal A