Habitat features influencing jaguar Panthera onca (Carnivora: Felidae) occupancy in Tortuguero national park, Costa Rica [Características del hábitat que influyen en la presencia del jaguar Panthera onca (Carnivora: Felidae) en el parque nacional Tortuguero, Costa Rica]
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Habitat characteristics and human activities are known to play a major role in the occupancy of jaguars Panthera onca across their range, however the key variables influencing jaguar distribution in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica, have yet to be identified. This study evaluated jaguar occupancy in Tortuguero National Park and the surrounding area. Jaguar detection/non-detection data was collected using digital camera traps distributed within the boundaries of the protected area. Local community members were also interviewed to determine jaguar occurrence in the Park’s buffer zone. Occupancy models were then applied to identify the habitat characteristics that may better explain jaguar distribution across the study area. From June 2012 to June 2013, a total of 4 339 camera trap days were used to identify 18 individual jaguars inside the protected area; 17 of these jaguars were exclusively detected within the coastal habitat, whilst the remaining individual was detected solely within the interior of the Park. Interviewees reported 61 occasions of jaguar presence inside the buffer zone, between 1995 and 2013, with 80% of these described by the communities of Lomas de Sierpe, Barra de Parismina and La Aurora. These communities also reported the highest levels of livestock predation by jaguars (85% of attacks). In the study area, jaguar occurrence was positively correlated with the seasonal presence of nesting green turtles Chelonia mydas, and negatively correlated with distance to the Park boundary. Our findings suggested that the current occupancy of the jaguar in the study area may be a response to: 1) the vast availability of prey (marine turtles) on Tortuguero beach, 2) the decline of its primary prey species as a result of illegal hunting inside the Park, and 3) the increase in anthropogenic pressures in the Park boundaries.
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