Prey depletion is a major threat to the conservation of large carnivore species globally. However, at the policy-relevant scale of protected areas, we know little about how the spatial distribution of prey depletion affects carnivore space use and population persistence. We developed a spatially explicit, agent-based model to investigate the effects of different human-induced prey depletion experiments on the globally endangered tiger (Panthera tigris) in isolated protected areas—a situation that prevails throughout the tiger's range. Specifically, we generated 120 experiments that varied the spatial extent and intensity of prey depletion across a stylized (circle) landscape (1,000 km2) and Nepal's Chitwan National Park (~1,239 km2). Experiments that created more spatially homogenous prey distributions (i.e., less prey removed per cell but over larger areas) resulted in larger tiger territories and smaller population sizes over time. Counterintuitively, we found that depleting prey along the edge of Chitwan National Park, while decreasing tiger numbers overall, also decreased female competition for those areas, leading to lower rates of female starvation. Overall our results suggest that subtle differences in the spatial distributions of prey densities created by various human activities, such as natural resource-use patterns, urban growth and infrastructure development, or conservation spatial zoning might have unintended, detrimental effects on carnivore populations. Our model is a useful planning tool as it incorporates information on animal behavioral ecology, resource spatial distribution, and the drivers of change to those resources, such as human activities.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation
- agent-based model
- prey depletion
- protected areas
- spatial heterogeneity