Leili Khalatbari, BIOPOLIS, CIBIO-InBIO/UP
University of Porto
Lasts of their kind? Biogeography, ecology and action plan for the conservation of critically endangered Asiatic cheetah
STUDENT SEMINAR IN BIODIVERSITY AND EVOLUTION

The critically endangered Asiatic cheetah once ranged across Southwestern Asia, but due to habitat transformation and fragmentation and depletion of their prey, their current distribution is restricted to the borders of Iran. In this thesis, I have studied their distribution range, threats and status; evolution of their suitable habitat and its drivers over the last century, diet, and landscape genetics. Moreover, I emphasized on important cautions that need to be taken for the efficient conservation of the species. Using this updated knowledge, I proposed a preliminary action plan for the conservation of the species. I found that cheetahs have been locally extinct from some parts of their previous Asian range, their population size is now less than 50 individuals, and main threats are depletion of their main prey, road network, competition with livestock, and lack of efficient protection. Their suitable habitats have decreased 72% from the last century and the main decline drivers were prey availability and maximum temperature. Cheetahs are primary feeding on mouflon even when it was not the most available prey item. Other food items were ibex, cape hare and goitered gazelle. Despite their high availability, small livestock was never detected in the diet. Higher compensation of Goitered gazelle in comparison to mouflon suggests that human pressures on lowland habitats have forced cheetahs to occupy suboptimal habitats. The population is spatially and genetically structured into two subpopulations with very low diversity and very low effective population size. Still some signature of gene flow was observed but the corridors connecting the two subpopulations are threatened by the road network. The main pillars of the action plan are safeguarding of key-habitats for cheetahs and their prey, protection of corridors between key-habitats, promotion of human-wildlife coexistence, establishment of a monitoring system, and potential reinforcement of the population with African individuals.

Leili Khalatbari is a PhD student at the University of Porto’s Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources. She has worked on several ecology and conservation projects focused on the conservation of mammal species of Iran. For the last four years she has been working on her thesis addressing distinct biological aspects of Asiatic cheetah with the aim to provide scientific based information for the conservation of the species. This seminar will be the practice for her final PhD defense.


[Host: José Carlos Brito, Biodiversity of Deserts and Arid Regions - BIODESERTS]