Spatial-Genetic Applications for Lion Conservation in a Changing Ecosystem in Northern Kenya
Fields of Interest:
Wildlife conservation, human-wildlife conflict, landscape alteration and habitat loss, community-based conservation, spacial and genetic population analysis
East Africa is experiencing high rates of wildlife declines due to habitat loss and fragmentation. In Kenya, loss of natural habitat is especially concerning because the majority of wildlife species rely on locations outside of protected areas for ample resource use. Apex predators, like lions (Panthera leo), whose home ranges cover large expanses, are particularly vulnerable to habitat decline because it reduces their ability to avoid humans while simultaneously reducing prey abundance. Furthermore, human development of landscapes can impede lion movement thereby restricting mating and gene flow and, ultimately, threatening population viability. The survival of free-ranging lions depends on an enhanced understanding of how human activity affects lion gene flow, especially outside of protected areas. My doctoral research quantifies the effect of anthropogenic landscape features on spatial-genetic patterns of lions in the Ewaso Ecosystem of north-central Kenya. I study lions because they are one of the most abundant apex predator species in the area and, consequently, most involved in human conflict (e.g. livestock depredation). Additionally, the lion’s intermediate tolerance of humans provides insight into the variability of predator adaptiveness to human activity. Facilitated by local collaborators, including Lion Landscapes, project results will help to inform on-the-ground community-based conservation and management initiatives. There, the goal will be to scientifically advise on which future land use scenarios may best minimize detrimental effects to both lions (e.g. barriers to movement) and local communities (e.g. livestock predation). Thus, we seek to navigate, but not decide between, conservation-development tradeoffs. With support from TRI, I aim to address the following questions:
(Q1) How does human land use and activity lion spatial-genetic population structure?
(Q2) What do predictive scenario models tell us about the future of lion conservation-development tradeoffs in private landscapes?