Iberian Lynx Faces Extinction in Just 50 Years, Say Scientists

Article excerpt

The Iberian lynx, the world's most endangered feline species, could go extinct in just 50 years if conservation efforts are not adjusted to factor in climate change, says new research.

Despite the millions of dollars put toward saving the slinky cat, scientists say that current efforts have not accounted for the influence that shifting climate conditions will have on the distribution of the predator's main food source, the European rabbit. Saving the lynx will require incorporating Spain's changing climate into plans to relocate the cat into zones friendlier to population growth.

"Models used to investigate how climate change will affect biodiversity have so far been unable to capture the dynamic and complex feedbacks of species interactions," writes Damien Fordham, a fellow at the University of Adelaide's Environment Institute and a co-author on a paper published in Nature Climate Change, in an email interview. "Conservation efforts show promise, but these efforts are likely to be wasted if the effects of climate change are not considered in reintroduction strategies."

In the early 1800s, the Iberian lynx, a spotted, yellow-eyed predator with ears like two small pie servers, commanded large territories across Spain and Portugal. Since then, roads have sliced through the Spanish countryside, putting artificial boundaries on what was once an unfettered habitat and cutting the cat's territory by about 95 percent. At the same time, the predator's primary prey, the European rabbit, has dwindled in number, a victim of overhunting and disease.

Noting those serious threats to the lynx's survival, about $118 million in funding has been marshaled toward lynx conservation efforts since 1994, following a survey from the International Union for Conservation of Nature that identified the animal as among the world's most critically endangered. Given those management efforts, the population has somewhat rebounded, especially over the past few years. The cat is now up from fewer than 100 individuals in 2008 to now just over 200, living in two communities in southern Spain.

Those conservation attempts largely focus on relocating the species to more food-abundant areas in Spain. But the efforts have not taken into account climate change's complex toll of the geographic distribution of the rabbit, a point that could blunt their impact in just half a century, Fordham said.

Using ecological models that incorporated climate change's influence on rabbit population patterns, scientists concluded that current management efforts will buy about 50 years for the struggling predator. …

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