An integrated approach to prioritize restoration for carnivore conservation in shared landscapes

Puri, M., Marx, A. J., Possingham, H. P., Wilson, K. A., Karanth, K. K., Loiselle, B. A. (2022) Biological Conservation 273: 0-0 10.1016/j.biocon.2022.109697

Abstract: Global land use change has resulted in the loss and fragmentation of habitats and amplified the pace of species extinction. With carnivores being disproportionately at risk of range contraction, restoration is an important strategy to counter the impacts of habitat loss and fragmentation. While protection of public lands has been the cornerstone of conservation, private lands can play an important supplementary role. India harbors 23 % of the global carnivore species, threatened by a rapidly growing economy and high human densities. Using a social-ecological systems approach, we prioritized private agricultural lands for agroforestry in the buffer area of Pench Tiger Reserve. We applied systematic conservation planning tools and combined data on (1) habitat use of four carnivores (tiger, leopard, dhole, and sloth bear), (2) landowner willingness to modify land use through enrolment in an incentive-based program, and (3) monetary cost of program implementation, to identify priority areas for agroforestry based on their relative cost-effectiveness. Our integrated approach generated a configuration of priority areas that was markedly different than if we selected areas using ecological data only. Over an 8-year period, restoration of ~4900, ~8300 and ~12,000 acres through agroforestry was estimated to have a cumulative cost of USD 56 million, USD 95 million, and USD 140 million, respectively. Partnering with and incentivizing private landowners can expand the effective size of small and fragmented protected areas. Our approach can be applied to other shared landscapes, dominated by private ownership, to identify areas that deliver a compromise between ecological suitability, social acceptability, and economic viability.