DISTRIBUTION OF THE RED PANDA AILURUS FULGENS (CUVIER, 1825) IN NEPAL BASED ON A PREDICTIVE MODEL
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The red panda (Ailurus fulgens), an endangered mammalian species endemic to the Eastern Himalaya, is protected from international trade from its presence on the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) and the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) list for all member countries within its range. There is limited information on its distribution and status range-wide, mainly due to its elusive nature. Its rarity makes field studies exceptionally expensive and time consuming. To facilitate the time-efficiency and cost-effectiveness of field studies on red panda, a predictive local scale distribution model for the red panda was developed for Nepal using maximum entropy (Maxent) species distribution modeling. In this method, 20 presence-only red panda occurrence points were used to train the model that used 10 uncorrelated environmental layers from various sources. A set of 86 independent points of red panda occurrences was used to evaluate the validity of the model. A probabilistic prediction for the red panda distribution was produced with a low omission rate and high accuracy (test AUC = 0.946). Elevation and temperature seasonality followed by tree cover were the most important environmental variables contributing to the red panda distribution model. The estimated suitable habitat for red panda in Nepal based on a 0.1 threshold of presence were areas of approximately 20,400 km2. In Nepal 22.5 % of suitable habitat falls in nine montane protected areas. Regional classification of habitat demonstrated a larger proportion of suitable areas for red pandas occurred in the Eastern Region of Nepal which also had high probability areas for red pandas and one of the highest human population growth rates in Nepal. Amplification of the model to the global scale predicted about 425,700 km2 of suitable areas for red pandas in six countries. The current Maxent model overestimated the modern distribution of the red panda in Asia. Despite the overestimation, this model can be used as an effective tool in planning future studies of the species and conservation efforts.