Date of this Version
Biological Conservation 166 (2013) 276–286; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2013.07.010
Wildlife populations are often influenced by multiple political jurisdictions. This is particularly true for wide-ranging, low-density carnivores whose populations have often contracted and remain threatened, heightening the need for geographically coordinated priorities at the landscape scale. Yet even as modern policies facilitate species recoveries, gaps in knowledge of historical distributions, population capacities, and potential for genetic exchange inhibit development of population-level conservation priorities. Wolverines are an 8–18 kg terrestrial weasel (Mustelidae) that naturally exist at low densities (~5/1000 km2) in cold, often snow-covered areas. Wolverines were extirpated, or nearly so, from the contiguous United States by 1930. We used a resource selection function to (1) predict habitat suitable for survival, reproduction and dispersal of wolverines across the western US, (2) make a rough estimate of population capacity, and (3) develop conservation priorities at the metapopulation scale. Primary wolverine habitat (survival) existed in island-like fashion across the western US, and we estimated capacity to be 644 wolverines (95% CI = 506–1881). We estimated current population size to be approximately half of capacity. Areas we predicted suitable for male dispersal linked all patches, but some potential core areas appear to be relatively isolated for females. Reintroduction of wolverines to the Southern Rockies and Sierra- Nevadas has the potential to increase population size by >50% and these regions may be robust to climate change. The Central Linkage Region is an area of great importance for metapopulation function, thus warranting collaborative strategies for maintaining high survival rates, high reproductive rates, and dispersal capabilities. Our analysis can help identify dispersal corridors, release locations for reintroductions, and monitoring targets. The process we used can serve as an example for developing collaborative, landscapescale, conservation priorities for data-sparse metapopulations.