I am a Conservation Biologist and my research focuses on the ecology and conservation of felids. My interests lie in the study of movement and habitat use patterns of felids, and on how these patterns are affected by different levels of anthropogenic disturbance. Within the field of conservation biology, I am interested in applying this information for the development of efficient and holistic conservation strategies for wildlife, particularly in the development of biological corridors and other management strategies that promote long term population viability. For my PhD I will be focusing on the development of spatially explicit simulation models that allow us to maintain healthy jaguar populations in the long term.
For large carnivores in fragmented landscapes, connectivity is a conservation priority to secure population viability and genetic diversity. This applies also to the jaguar, Panthera onca, in Middle America. In this region, the species has been extirpated from 67% of its former range and some of its local populations show first signs of genetic isolation. Thus, safeguarding and restoring connectivity of jaguar populations is critical for achieving long-term viability in this region. To support management for connectivity, we need to understand how the species’ movement is influenced by individual traits and the structure and configuration of the landscape. While data on movement and habitat features is needed for this endeavor, is not sufficient by itself. Agent-based modeling provides a more integrative framework that allows us to integrate knowledge on the biology of the species, its spatial distribution, its adaptive behavior, demographics, and the landscape features that restrict its movement.
The main purpose of my research is the development of a spatially explicit agent-based movement and population viability model to understand jaguar functional connectivity in the complex heterogeneous landscape of Middle America. This model will focus on answering two main questions: how do pathways for jaguar connectivity emerge from the interaction between the species’ movement behaviour, demography and the landscape structure in this region? And, what management and restoration strategies maximize populations’ connectivity and long term viability?
My model will be parameterized and tested with existing data and validated independently using genetic information. Elements of participatory modeling will be implemented during the research process, in which interim versions of the models will be discussed with jaguar experts and stakeholders from the study region, to ensure that the model output can be directly used to support management and planning for jaguar conservation. The final model will provide strategic feedback to the current conservation actions performed within the Jaguar Corridor Initiative in Middle America, improving the ecological realism and functionality of jaguar corridors, as well as the prioritization for protection and restoration of the critical linkages within the corridor that will most likely secure both jaguar movement and population viability.