Scientists establish consensus on tiger corridors in Central India | Nagpur News

Comparing five independent studies, experts have found that people live and use forests in majority of the areas which have high potential for tiger movement

Nagpur: Five independent studies have agreed on priority conservation areas for connectivity and management challenges for spaces shared by humans and wildlife. These studies derive consensus connectivity areas (CCAs), which represent areas where there was high potential for tiger movement.
The experts synthesized five independent studies of tiger connectivity in Central India, a global priority landscape for tiger conservation, and found that roughly 70% of the CCAs fell within village administrative boundaries, and 100% overlapped forest department management boundaries, suggesting that people live and use forests within these priority areas.
Over 16% of total CCAs was within 1km of linear infrastructure (437 roads, 170 railways, 179 transmission lines, 339 canal crossings, and 105 mines), the studies have found an effective action to protect wildlife depends on the scientific consensus about where conservation can be most effective.
One such consensus was born in January of 2019 near Melghat Tiger Reserve during the biannual symposium of the Network for Conserving Central India (NCCI) — an umbrella group of researchers, NGOs, and managers. Discussion about the importance of corridors for tiger populations in Central India motivated the idea for a single consensus map — a single voice from the scientific community to drive home the decades of tiger connectivity science that could inform management decisions region-wise.
The collaboration culminated in a study, recently published in the journal Society Conservation Biology, which compared 5 independent published studies on tiger connectivity to quantify agreement on key areas for tiger movement throughout the Central Indian landscape.
Tigers across Central India travel long distances to get from one reserve to another. The similar genetic makeup of tigers in different reserves indicates that individual tigers born in one tiger reserve have moved across the landscape and bred with tigers in other reserves. In this way, connectivity between tiger habitats facilitates healthy genetic exchange and thus more viable tiger populations in the future.
Extensive focus on tiger conservation and connectivity over the last decade has created a swathe of effective conservation plans for tigers in India. As the focus has shifted from independent protected areas to a wider landscape approach, these plans increasingly emphasize the importance of wildlife corridors to facilitate natural gene flow throughout the landscape.
Despite differences in underlying data and methodologies, all studies incorporated land use or land cover and accounted for human populations in the areas outside of reserves in a variety of ways. The five studies agreed most on areas that impede tiger movement (urban areas) and the areas where tigers could move freely with minimal barriers (forests). There was a lower agreement in intermediate areas (agriculture), reflecting uncertainty in our knowledge about tiger movement in human-dominated landscapes.
“We hope that this result offers a clear message about where the current science agrees and can bolster existing efforts to conserve tigers and other species that share their habitat in Central India,” says Jay Schoen, who led the connectivity data analyses. The paper emphasizes that collaboration among scientists and studies with different results could be a way forward for forming consensus on important corridor locations to overcome confusion when studies don’t agree.
To facilitate conservation in this landscape, it is also essential to understand the priorities and realities of multiple stakeholders — including forest managers, infrastructure developers, and local communities — around how the land in the CCAs should be used.
The authors found that land ownership in CCAs is complicated, with overlapping or contested ownership among multiple arms of the forest department and villages. Specifically, 70% of the CCAs fell within village administrative boundaries, 100% overlapped forest department management boundaries, and over 16% of the total CCA area was within 1km of linear infrastructure.
“The successful management of CCAs will require consensus among stakeholders on the appropriate balance between potentially competing objectives for safe passage of dispersing wildlife, livelihood needs for local communities, and infrastructure development,” says Amrita Neelakantan, who led the management implications analysis.
The authors JM Schoen, Amrita Neelakantan, SA Cushman, Trishna Dutta, Bilal Habib, YV Jhala, Indranil Mondol, Uma Ramakrishnan, PA Reddy, Swati Saini, Sandeep Sharma, Prachi Thatte, Bibek Yumnam, & Ruth DeFries hope that by highlighting important areas for wildlife to maintain connectivity and identifying the stakeholders affected by land-use decisions in these areas, they provide a multi-pronged input to local and national managers, an approach can be applied to other regions of the world to support applied conservation work and ultimately to promote prosperity for — and coexistence between humans and nature.
THE FINDINGS
Land ownership in consensus connectivity areas (CCAs) is complicated, with overlapping or contested ownership among multiple arms of forest department and villages
70% CCAs fall within village administrative boundaries, and 100% overlap forest department management boundaries
Over 16% of total CCA region within 1km of linear infrastructure
Successful management of CCAs needs consensus among stakeholders on appropriate balance between safe passage for wildlife, livelihood needs for local communities and infrastructure development

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