Measuring protected-area effectiveness using vertebrate distributions from leech iDNA

Yinqiu Ji, Christopher C. M. Baker, Viorel D. Popescu, Jiaxin Wang, Chunying Wu, Zhengyang Wang, Yuanheng Li, Lin Wang, Chaolang Hua, Zhongxing Yang, Chunyan Yang, Charles C. Y. Xu, Alex Diana, Qingzhong Wen, Naomi E. Pierce, Douglas W. Yu

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Protected areas are key to meeting biodiversity conservation goals, but direct measures of effectiveness have proven difficult to obtain. We address this challenge by using environmental DNA from leech-ingested bloodmeals to estimate spatially-resolved vertebrate occupancies across the 677 km 2 Ailaoshan reserve in Yunnan, China. From 30,468 leeches collected by 163 park rangers across 172 patrol areas, we identify 86 vertebrate species, including amphibians, mammals, birds and squamates. Multi-species occupancy modelling shows that species richness increases with elevation and distance to reserve edge. Most large mammals (e.g. sambar, black bear, serow, tufted deer) follow this pattern; the exceptions are the three domestic mammal species (cows, sheep, goats) and muntjak deer, which are more common at lower elevations. Vertebrate occupancies are a direct measure of conservation outcomes that can help guide protected-area management and improve the contributions that protected areas make towards global biodiversity goals. Here, we show the feasibility of using invertebrate-derived DNA to estimate spatially-resolved vertebrate occupancies across entire protected areas.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1555
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2022

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