The shrinking ark: patterns of large mammal extinctions in India

Krithi K. Karanth, James D. Nichols, K. Ullas Karanth, James E. Hines, Norman L. Christensen

Abstract

Mammal extinctions are widespread globally, with South Asian species being most threatened. We examine local extinctions of 25 mammals in India. We use historical records to obtain a set of locations at which each species was known to have been present at some time in the last 200 years. We then use occupancy estimation models to draw inferences about current presence at these same locations based on field observations of local experts. We examine predictions about the influence of key factors such as protected areas, forest cover, elevation, human population density and cultural tolerance on species extinction. For all 25 species, estimated local extinction probabilities (referenced to a 100 year time frame) range between 0.14 and 0.96. Time elapsed since the historical occurrence record was an important determinant of extinction probability for 14 species. Protected areas are positively associated with lower extinction of 18 species, although many species occur outside them. We find evidence that higher proportion of forest cover is associated with lower extinction probabilities for seven species. However, for species that prefer open habitats (which have experienced intensive land-use change), forest cover alone appears insufficient to ensure persistence (the complement of extinction). We find that higher altitude is positively associated with lower extinction for eight species. Human population density is positively associated with extinction of 13 species. We find that ‘culturally tolerated’ species do exhibit higher persistence. Overall, large-bodied, rare and habitat specialist mammals tend to have higher extinction probabilities.

Footnotes

    • Received January 26, 2010.
    • Accepted February 18, 2010.
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