The Asian Development Bank estimates $750 trillion will be spent in Southeast Asia on infrastructure development within the next decade. Due to their high sensitivity to forest disturbance, mammals will be the most affected by an increase in development. As infrastructure continues to fragment habitat, the decrease in habitat and the increased distance between habitat patches may lead to reduced carnivore presence. Preserving physical and genetic connectivity of carnivore populations between habitat patches is one of the most important factors in maintaining robust populations and safeguarding endangered carnivore species such as tigers against extinction.
One of the most threatened subspecies of tiger, the Sumatran tiger resides within approximately 88,000 km2 of fragmented natural habitat. The World Wildlife Fund-Indonesia has monitored tigers via camera traps in central Sumatra since 2004, but as natural habitat declines and plantations and settlements encroach on protected areas, tiger use of these non-natural areas remains largely unknown. Identifying which areas of plantations tigers use and why, could help reduce the number of human-tiger encounters and allow plantation managers to plan strategic and rotational ‘tiger friendly’ areas of plantations.
The goal of this project is to conduct a preliminary assessment of the extent of connectivity and habitat use of central Sumatran tiger populations. To determine habitat use, I will use foot holds to trap tigers and African Wildlife Tracking GPS collars to collect fine-scale movement data. Scat will be collected and analyzed to quantify any genetic connectivity between tiger populations in central Sumatra. I will also model land cover change and quantify tiger habitat change using different development scenarios. The findings of this study will provide us with powerful knowledge critical to keeping the growing human population safe while developing a management plan to increase the central Sumatran tiger population.