Date of Award
Master of Science
Although Panamá is an important global hotspot for biodiversity, basic information on large carnivore and prey distributions as well as habitat needs is largely unknown. Wildlife studies in Panamá have been limited to populations located in protected areas along the Panamanian Atlantic Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (PAMBC) and have not considered potentially important refuge habitats located outside the PAMBC. Further, research on human attitudes and perceptions associated with large carnivores, such as jaguars (Panthera onca), is limited in Panamá. My study was conducted in 2 disparate study areas: Cerro Hoya National Park (CHNP), an isolated remnant of tropical rainforest habitat 125 km from the PAMBC that straddles the Veraguas and Los Santos provinces on the Azuero Peninsula; and Serranía de Pirre (SP), a comparative study area in the PAMBC located in Darién National Park (DNP). I used remote cameras to investigate patterns of site occupancy and detection probabilities, as affected by habitat and anthropogenic influences, for 3 species of felids (jaguars, pumas [Puma concolor], and ocelots [Leopardus pardalis]) and 2 species of peccaries (white-lipped [Tayassu pecari] and collared [Pecari tajacu]). In addition, I assessed attitudes and perceptions of rural Panamanians about jaguars and the conservation of CHNP and DNP via oral surveys. Site occupancy did not appear to differ between study areas for any felid or peccary, but detection frequencies and detection probabilities of focal species were overall higher in SP than CHNP. For collared peccaries, probability of detection was a function of survey year, study area, and Julian date, and estimated occupancy was higher in CHNP than SP. For ocelots, probability of detection was significantly higher in SP than CHNP when an ocelot was detected in a previous occasion. For pumas, detection increased with Julian date in CHNP but was seasonally unaffected in SP. Puma occupancy was higher closer to river systems. For jaguars, detection probability decreased with Julian date, increased with number of camera days per occasion, and was higher in SP than CHNP. Jaguars were more likely to use habitat at higher elevations in both study areas. White-lipped peccaries were never detected in CHNP, which may indicate their local extirpation in this region of Panamá. Regarding surveys measuring perceptions of rural people, factors such as gender, level of education, land ownership, and number of cattle affected knowledge and attitudes towards jaguars and criticism towards park management. Additionally, there was a higher frequency of human-jaguar conflict in SP than CHNP and coyotes (Canis latrans) were the most commonly reported threat to livestock in CHNP. My research elucidates previously unknown distribution limits of jaguars and coyotes in the Azuero Peninsula, as well as providing evidence for the potential local extirpation of white lipped peccaries in CHNP. I provide wildlife managers with improvements for survey design of future occupancy studies in the Neotropics. Further, my research provides targeted areas to prioritize for future wildlife conservation efforts and mitigation efforts concerning human-jaguar conflict.
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