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Janjua, S., Peters, J. L., Weckworth, B., Abbas, F. I., Bahn, Volker, Johansson, O., Rooney, T.P. (2019). Improving our conservation genetic toolkit: ddRAD-seq for SNPs in snow leopards. Conservation Genetic Resource, .
Abstract: Snow leopards (Panthera uncia) are an enigmatic, high-altitude species whose challenging habitat, low population densities
and patchy distribution have presented challenges for scientists studying its biology, population structure, and genetics.
Molecular scatology brings a new hope for conservation efforts by providing valuable insights about snow leopards, including
their distribution, population densities, connectivity, habitat use, and population structure for assigning conservation units.
However, traditional amplification of microsatellites from non-invasive sources of DNA are accompanied by significant
genotyping errors due to low DNA yield and poor quality. These errors can lead to incorrect inferences in the number of
individuals and estimates of genetic diversity. Next generation technologies have revolutionized the depth of information
we can get from a species' genome. Here we used double digest restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (ddRAD-seq),
a well-established technique for studying non-model organisms, to develop a reference sequence library for snow leopards
using blood samples from five Mongolian individuals. Our final data set reveals 4504 loci with a median size range of 221 bp.
We identified 697 SNPs and low nucleotide diversity (0.00032) within these loci. However, the probability that two random
individuals will share identical genotypes is about 10-168. We developed probes for DNA capture using this sequence library
which can now be used for genotyping individuals from scat samples. Genetic data from ddRAD-seq will be invaluable for
conducting population and landscape scale studies that can inform snow leopard conservation strategies.
Johansson, O., Ausilio, G., Low, M., Lkhagvajav, P., Weckworth,
B., Sharma, K. (2020). The timing of breeding and independence for snow leopard females
and their cubs. Mammalian Biology, .
Abstract: Significant knowledge gaps persist on snow leopard demography
and reproductive behavior. From a GPS-collared population in Mongolia,
we estimated the timing of mating, parturition and independence. Based
on three mother–cub pairs, we describe the separation phase of the cub
from its mother as it gains independence. Snow leopards mated from
January–March and gave birth from April–June. Cubs remained with their
mother until their second winter (20–22 months of age) when cubs started
showing movements away from their mother for days at a time. This
initiation of independence appeared to coincide with their mother mating
with the territorial male. Two female cubs remained in their mothers’
territory for several months after initial separation, whereas the male
cub quickly dispersed. By comparing the relationship between body size
and age of independence across 11 solitary, medium-to-large felid
species, it was clear that snow leopards have a delayed timing of
separation compared to other species. We suggest this may be related to
their mating behavior and the difficulty of the habitat and prey capture
for juvenile snow leopards. Our results, while limited, provide
empirical estimates for understanding snow leopard ecology and for
parameterizing population models.
Johansson, O., Koehler, G., Rauset, G. R.< Samelius, G., Andren, H., Mishra, C., Lhagvarsuren, P., McCarthy, T., Low, M. (2018). Sex specific seasonal variation in puma and snow leopard home range utilization. Ecosphere, 9(8), 1–14.
Abstract: Territory size is often larger for males than for females in species without biparental care. For large solitary carnivores, this is explained by males encompassing a set of female territories to monopolize their reproduction during mating (area maximization). However, males are expected to behave more like females outside of breeding, with their area utilization being dependent on the range required to secure food resources (area minimization). To examine how male and female solitary carnivores adjust their spatial organization during the year as key resources (mates and prey) change, we radio‐collared 17 pumas (Puma concolor; nine males and eight females) and 14 snow leopards (Panthera uncia; seven males and seven females) and estimated home range size and overlap on two temporal scales (annual vs. monthly). Contrary to expectation, we found no evidence that males monopolized females (the mean territory overlap between females and the focal male during the mating season was 0.28 and 0.64 in pumas and snow leopards, respectively). Although male�male overlap of annual home ranges was comparatively high (snow leopards [0.21] vs. pumas [0.11]), monthly home range overlaps were small (snow leopards [0.02] vs. pumas [0.08]) suggesting strong territoriality. In pumas, both males and females reduced their monthly home ranges in winter, and at the same time, prey distribution was clumped and mating activity increased. In snow leopards, females showed little variation in seasonal home range size, following the seasonal stability in their primary prey. However, male snow leopards reduced their monthly home range utilization in the mating season. In line with other studies, our results suggest that female seasonal home range variation is largely explained by changes in food resource distribution. However, contrary to expectations, male territories did not generally encompass those of females, and males reduced their home ranges during mating. Our results show that male and female territorial boundaries tend to intersect in these species, and hint at the operation of female choice and male mate guarding within these mating systems.
Johansson, O., McCarthy, T., Samelius, G., Andren, H., Tumursukh, L., Mishra, C. (2015). Snow leopard predation in a livestock dominated landscape in Mongolia. Biological Conservation, 184, 251–258.
Abstract: Livestock predation is an important cause of endangerment of the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) across
its range. Yet, detailed information on individual and spatio-temporal variation in predation patterns of
snow leopards and their kill rates of livestock and wild ungulates are lacking.
We collared 19 snow leopards in the Tost Mountains, Mongolia, and searched clusters of GPS positions
to identify prey remains and estimate kill rate and prey choice.
Snow leopards killed, on average, one ungulate every 8 days, which included more wild prey (73%) than
livestock (27%), despite livestock abundance being at least one order of magnitude higher. Predation on
herded livestock occurred mainly on stragglers and in rugged areas where animals are out of sight of herders.
The two wild ungulates, ibex (Capra ibex) and argali (Ovis ammon), were killed in proportion to their
relative abundance. Predation patterns changed with spatial (wild ungulates) and seasonal (livestock)
changes in prey abundance. Adult male snow leopards killed larger prey and 2–6 times more livestock
compared to females and young males. Kill rates were considerably higher than previous scat-based estimates, and kill rates of females were higher than kill rates of males. We suggest that (i) snow leopards
prey largely on wild ungulates and kill livestock opportunistically, (ii) retaliatory killing by livestock herders
is likely to cause greater mortality of adult male snow leopards compared to females and young
males, and (iii) total off-take of prey by a snow leopard population is likely to be much higher than previous
Johansson, O., Rauset, G. R., Samelius, G., McCarthy, T., Andren, H., Tumursukh, L., Mishra, C. (2016). Land sharing is essential for snow leopard conservation. Biological Conservation, (203), 1–7.
Abstract: Conserving large carnivores in an increasingly crowded planet raises difficult challenges. A recurring debate is whether large carnivores can be conserved in human used landscapes (land sharing) or whether they require specially designated areas (land sparing). Here we show that 40% of the 170 protected areas in the global range of the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) are smaller than the home range of a single adult male and only 4– 13% are large enough for a 90% probability of containing 15 or more adult females. We used data from 16 snow leopards equipped with GPS collars in the Tost Mountains of South Gobi, Mongolia, to calculate home range size and overlap using three different estimators: minimum convex polygons (MCP), kernel utility distributions (Kernel), and local convex hulls (LoCoH). Local convex hull home ranges were smaller and included lower proportions of unused habitats compared to home ranges based on minimum convex polygons and Kernels. Intra-sexual home range overlapwas low, especially for adult males, suggesting that snowleopards are territorial. Mean home range size based on the LoCoH estimates was 207 km2 ± 63 SD for adult males and 124 km2 ± 41 SD for adult females. Our estimates were 6–44 times larger than earlier estimates based on VHF technology when comparing similar estimators, i.e. MCP. Our study illustrates that protected areas alone will not be able to conserve predatorswith large home ranges and conservationists and managers should not restrict their efforts to land sparing.
Johansson, O., Samelius, G., Wikberg, E, Chapron, G., Mishra, C., Low, M. (2020). Identification errors in camera- trap studies result in systematic population overestimation. Scientific Reports, 10(6393), 1–10.
Abstract: Reliable assessments of animal abundance are key for successful conservation of endangered species. For elusive animals with individually-unique markings, camera-trap surveys are a benchmark standard for estimating local and global population abundance. Central to the reliability of resulting abundance estimates is the assumption that individuals are accurately identified from photographic captures. To quantify the risk of individual misidentification and its impact on population abundance estimates we performed an experiment under controlled conditions in which 16 captive snow leopards (Panthera uncia) were camera-trapped on 40 occasions and eight observers independently identified individuals and recaptures. Observers misclassified 12.5% of all capture occasions, resulting in systematically inflated population abundance estimates on average by one third (mean ± SD = 35 ± 21%). Our results show that identifying individually-unique individuals from camera-trap photos may not be as reliable as previously believed, implying that elusive and endangered species could be less abundant than current estimates indicate.
Johansson, O., Ullman, K., Lkhagvajav, P., Wiseman, M.,
Malmsten, J., Leijon, M. (2020). Detection and Genetic Characterization of Viruses Present in
Free-Ranging Snow Leopards Using Next-Generation Sequencing. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 7(645), 1–9.
Abstract: Snow leopards inhabit the cold, arid environments of the high
mountains of South and Central Asia. These living conditions likely
affect the abundance and composition of microbes with the capacity to
infect these animals. It is important to investigate the microbes that
snow leopards are exposed to detect infectious disease threats and
define a baseline for future changes that may impact the health of this
endangered felid. In this work, next-generation sequencing is used to
investigate the fecal (and in a few cases serum) virome of seven snow
leopards from the Tost Mountains of Mongolia. The viral species to which
the greatest number of sequences reads showed high similarity was
rotavirus. Excluding one animal with overall very few sequence reads,
four of six animals (67%) displayed evidence of rotavirus infection. A
serum sample of a male and a rectal swab of a female snow leopard
produced sequence reads identical or closely similar to felid
herpesvirus 1, providing the first evidence that this virus infects snow
leopards. In addition, the rectal swab from the same female also
displayed sequence reads most similar to feline papillomavirus 2, which
is the first evidence for this virus infecting snow leopards. The rectal
swabs from all animals also showed evidence for the presence of small
circular DNA viruses, predominantly Circular Rep-Encoding
Single-Stranded (CRESS) DNA viruses and in one case feline anellovirus.
Several of the viruses implicated in the present study could affect the
health of snow leopards. In animals which are under environmental
stress, for example, young dispersing individuals and lactating females,
health issues may be exacerbated by latent virus infections.
McCarthy, T., Murray, K., Sharma, K., & Johansson, O. (2010). Preliminary results of a long-term study of snow leopards in South Gobi, Mongolia. Cat News, Autumn(53), 15–19.
Abstract: Snow leopards Panthera uncia are under threat across their range and require urgent conservation actions based on sound science. However, their remote habitat and cryptic nature make them inherently difficult to study and past attempts have provided insufficient information upon which to base effective conservation. Further, there has been no statistically-reliable and cost-effective method available to monitor snow leopard populations, focus conservation effort on key populations, or assess conservation impacts. To address these multiple information needs, Panthera, Snow Leopard Trust, and Snow Leopard Conservation Fund, launched an ambitious long-term study in Mongolia’s South Gobi province in 2008. To date, 10 snow leo-pards have been fitted with GPS-satellite collars to provide information on basic snow leopard ecology. Using 2,443 locations we calculated MCP home ranges of 150 – 938 km2, with substantial overlap between individuals. Exploratory movements outside typical snow leopard habitat have been observed. Trials of camera trapping, fecal genetics, and occupancy modeling, have been completed. Each method ex-hibits promise, and limitations, as potential monitoring tools for this elusive species.
Samelius, G., Suryawanshi, K., Frank, J., Agvaantseren, B., Baasandamba, E., Mijiddorj, T., Johansson, O., Tumursukh, L., Mishra, C. (2020). Keeping predators out: testing fences to reduce livestock depredation at night-time corrals. Oryx, , 1–7.
Abstract: Livestock depredation by large carnivores is a global conservation challenge, and mitigation measures to reduce livestock losses are crucial for the coexistence of large carnivores and people. Various measures are employed to reduce livestock depredation but their effectiveness has rarely been tested. In this study, we tested the effectiveness of tall fences to reduce livestock losses to snow leopards Panthera uncia and wolves Canis lupus at night-time corrals at the winter camps of livestock herders in the Tost Mountains in southern Mongolia. Self-reported livestock losses at the fenced corrals were reduced from a mean loss of 3.9 goats and sheep per family and winter prior to the study to zero losses in the two winters of the study. In contrast, self-reported livestock losses in winter pastures, and during the rest of the year, when herders used different camps, remained high, which indicates that livestock losses were reduced because of the fences, not because of temporal variation in predation pressure. Herder attitudes towards snow leopards were positive and remained positive during the study, whereas attitudes towards wolves, which attacked livestock also in summer when herders moved out on the steppes, were negative and worsened during the study. This study showed that tall fences can be very effective at reducing night-time losses at corrals and we conclude that fences can be an important tool for snow leopard conservation and for facilitating the coexistence of snow leopards and people.
Sharma, K., Bayrakcismith, R., Tumursukh, L., Johansson, O., Sevger, P., McCarthy, T., Mishra, C. (2014). Vigorous Dynamics Underlie a Stable Population of the Endangered Snow Leopard Panthera uncia in Tost Mountains, South Gobi, Mongolia. Plos One, 9(7).
Abstract: Population monitoring programmes and estimation of vital rates are key to understanding the mechanisms of population growth, decline or stability, and are important for effective conservation action. We report, for the first time, the population trends and vital rates of the endangered snow leopard based on camera trapping over four years in the Tost Mountains, South Gobi, Mongolia. We used robust design multi-season mark-recapture analysis to estimate the trends in abundance, sex ratio, survival probability and the probability of temporary emigration and immigration for adult and young snow leopards. The snow leopard population remained constant over most of the study period, with no apparent growth (l = 1.08+20.25). Comparison of model results with the ‘‘known population’’ of radio-collared snow leopards suggested
high accuracy in our estimates. Although seemingly stable, vigorous underlying dynamics were evident in this population, with the adult sex ratio shifting from being male-biased to female-biased (1.67 to 0.38 males per female) during the study. Adult survival probability was 0.82 (SE+20.08) and that of young was 0.83 (SE+20.15) and 0.77 (SE +20.2) respectively, before and after the age of 2 years. Young snow leopards showed a high probability of temporary emigration and immigration (0.6, SE +20.19 and 0.68, SE +20.32 before and after the age of 2 years) though not the adults (0.02 SE+20.07). While the current female-bias in the population and the number of cubs born each year seemingly render the study population safe, the vigorous dynamics suggests that the situation can change quickly. The reduction in the proportion of
male snow leopards may be indicative of continuing anthropogenic pressures. Our work reiterates the importance of monitoring both the abundance and population dynamics of species for effective conservation.