Title: Large Carnivore Ecology and Conservation in the High Mountains of Central Asia
Author: Kachel, S.M.
Abstract: Predators shape their ecosystems through myriad interactions with prey, other predators, and humans. However, the effects of these interactions may be contingent on multiple contextual factors, hindering prediction in any given community and impeding a general understanding of the ecological effects of predators. Despite their prominence as conservation flagship in the mountains of Central Asia, even basic aspects of snow leopard (Panthera uncia) ecology remain underexplored and poorly understood. The ecology of wolves (Canis lupus), sympatric with snow leopards throughout that species’ range, has been even more neglected in the region, notwithstanding the significant impact of livestock depredation on pastoralist communities. This dissertation examines the interactions underlying the coexistence of wolves and snow leopards, including those with humans and their joint effects on prey, with the broader goal of improving our understanding of the context-dependence of the
non-consumptive effects (NCEs) of predators. In Chapter 2, I explore the patterns of spatial, temporal, and dietary niche overlap between wolves and snow leopards in the Eastern Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan. I show that in
light of dietary and temporal overlap, the two predators’ coexistence may depend on strong spatial partitioning. In Chapter 3, I explore the consequences of this spatial partitioning by investigating how shared prey with distinct escape tactics, ibex (Capra sibirica) and argali (Ovis ammon), navigate the tradeoffs posed by the two predators in the Central Tien Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Each ungulate responded to each predator in a manner that was predictable based on the compatibility of their respective evasion and hunting-mode traits, suggesting that non- consumptive predator effects depend not on predator hunting mode or prey escape tactics, but rather on their interaction. Furthermore, short-term predation risk may upend each ungulates’ long-term risk avoidance strategy, suggesting that emergent effects of multiple predators may have important consequences in this system. In Chapter 4, I develop a novel approach to investigate large-scale patterns of livestock depredation
risk and occurrence for wolves and snow leopards, but also lynx (Lynx lynx) and bears (Ursus arctos), in the Western Pamirs of Tajikistan. Livestock depredation was commonplace, with most communities exposed to multiple predators, highlighting that conservation efforts meant to reduce conflict between people and carnivores should aim to reduce depredation as it is experienced by human communities – a threat from the entire carnivore guild. Overall, my results suggest that single-species approaches to conservation in the mountains of Central Asia may be inadequate for ecosystems and people. This dissertation advances the cause of conservation in Central Asia by providing an empirical perspective on how snow leopards and wolves coexist and shape their ecosystems, and by providing practical insight into the challenge of livestock depredation and conflict, a primary threat to wolves and snow leopards in the region. By showing that the non-consumptive effects of predators cannot be pr
edicted based solely on prey escape tactics or predator hunting mode alone, it also contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of the role of predators in shaping ecosystems.