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Distributional patterns and habitat association of sympatric carnivores in Margalla Hills National Park, Pakistan, and a comparison of conventional versus molecular identification in carnivore scatology

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posted on 2023-10-18, 14:08 authored by Hira Fatima, Tariq Mahmood, Lauren M. Hennelly, Muhammad Farooq, Nadeem Munawar, Waqas Ali, Benjamin N. Sacks

Knowledge of a species’ distribution is important for developing effective conservation programs. In Pakistan, little is known about the status or distribution of most carnivores coexisting in the same landscape. To address this knowledge gap, we studied distribution patterns of coexisting carnivores in Margalla Hills National Park, using both conventional as well as DNA-identified scats, and other signs. Although scat surveys remain a popular approach to study carnivores, scat identification based on morphology alone is error-prone. As part of our study, we therefore evaluated accuracy of morphological identification of scats using genetic techniques. Field surveys were conducted from September 2015 to December 2018. Using 593 direct (sighting, camera trapping, road kills) and indirect (scats, footprints) field signs, we detected total 11 carnivore species in the park, including 10 that were represented in the subset of 248 (47.7%) scats identified from DNA. The molecular analyses confirmed that the misidentification rate was highest for red fox (Vulpes vulpes) (8.47%), followed by Asiatic jackal (Canis aureus) (7.66%), but least for small Indian civet (Viverricula indica) (3.63%). For investigating habitat association of carnivores, and to test for the associations between species presence and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), we compared the mean and standard deviation of NDVI of each species’ presence locations with the mean and standard deviation of NDVI along the 23 sampling transects. Based on DNA-verified and all scats, carnivore species showed a range of mean NDVI, suggesting, preliminarily, some species may utilize a greater diversity of habitat types than others.

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