Author: Alyssa Donnelly
Major: Environmental Studies, Biology
Approved: Spring 2019
Large felid species are facing persistent population declines across the globe in the face of altered landscapes and behaviors due to human expansion. These species have many ecological roles that can be significant in ecosystem structure and functioning. Carnivores enforce ecological boundaries and control prey and mesopredator populations, as well as influence community structure and diversity. Large carnivores often function as keystone species, but can also act as effective umbrella species in which their conservation will benefit a plethora of other vertebrate species. Large carnivores need large areas of habitat, and have large ranging behavior and other ecological traits that cause conflict with humans and interferes with their conservation. Increasing human population and urbanization contributes to habitat loss and fragmentation, and a cascade of negative effects on carnivores including decreased genetic diversity and increased mortality. The conservation of large carnivores is paramount due to their persistent declines, and their significant impact on other species and ecosystems. I discuss the conflict and conservation of four large carnivore species on four different continents, the mountain lion Puma concolor in North America, the jaguar Panthera onca in South America, the lion Panthera leo in Africa, and the snow leopard Panthera uncia in Asia. I conduct an extensive literature review and comparative analysis of these four species on their ecological traits, ecosystem, geographical area and culture, and past conservation strategies. I underline the need for individual assessments of species and their surrounding landscape and culture to identify species-specific or global strategies when considering land management and conservation strategies. These strategies take a comprehensive approach that combines biological field research and models, socio-environmental programs, and policy changes. I propose the utilization of a landscape connectivity model for all large carnivore species in conjunction with the analysis of spatial-temporal movements to identify areas of most and least concern for future management practices and carnivore conservation. I also highlight a number of preventative workshops and social programs to mitigate conflict and develop positive relationships with carnivores, and propose a modification in policy to reduce genetic losses within species. Taken together these steps have the potential to stabilize large cat populations into the future, and reinforce the ecological boundaries they construct in ecosystems, benefitting ecosystems across the globe.