Ecology and Conservation of the Jaguar in the Mayan forest of Calakmul

The project on the ecology and conservation of the jaguar in the Mayan jungle began in 1997 in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, south of Campeche, with the objective of generating solid and current knowledge on the ecology and conservation of the jaguar. Years later the study spread to other regions south of the Yucatán Peninsula analyzing the ecology of the jaguar in environments conserved and influenced by human activities with the use of satellite telemetry and camera traps. The information generated was of great importance because it allowed to determine activity areas in these environments and the area needed to maintain a viable population of jaguars. Priority areas for the conservation of the jaguar were identified to develop a strategy of protection and conservation at the regional level.

Monitoring with the use of camera traps laid the baseline for the development of The National Jaguar Census and its prey (Cenjaguar), the first continental study to determine the size and status of jaguar populations in Mexico.

Since 2005 the work group has promoted annual symposia entitled “The Mexican Jaguar in the 21st Century”, which aims to bring together specialists in the study of the jaguar and to propose actions for the conservation of the species in Mexico.

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Ecology and Conservation of prairie dogs’ ecosystem in Janos, Chihuahua

In addition to the largest colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) on the continent and a great diversity of fauna, the Janos region maintains extensive areas of native grasslands. The work that we developed in this region began more than 20 years ago when we focused on assessing biological diversity, mainly of vertebrate groups. Throughout this time, we have developed numerous research projects in which we have recorded the rapid degradation of the grasslands.

Currently we focus on the conservation of the ecosystem through particular projects of students and four general projects:

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Program of Restoration and Conservation of Arid Grasslands in Northwest Mexico

From 1990 to 2000 more than 40,000 hectares of grassland were transformed into arid shrubland and more than 45,000 hectares of pasture cover were lost. In addition, intensive agriculture increased from 731 hectares in 1993 to 12,845 hectares in 2008 and 70% of the hectares occupied by prairie dog colonies were lost.

These changes motivated us to link scientific research with the environmental problems of the region and as a result of our commitment, in 2009 we achieved the declaration of the Janos Biosphere Reserve, the first federal reserve to protect native grasslands in Mexico.

The scientific information we are producing will allow us to establish the basis for promoting grassland restoration and socio-economic well-being in the region by developing sound strategies to: 1) restore the prairie dog’ ecosystem, 2) implement a better livestock management, and 3) restore grasslands using intensive agriculture to transform shrubland into native grasslands.

Together with the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas we are coordinating the elaboration and implementation of the management plan with conservation and restoration actions using interinstitutional and interdisciplinary approaches.

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Interaction of Prairie Dogs and Domestic Cattle in Janos Grasslands (JPACS)

Throughout the world large and small herbivores modify the plant composition and soil structure having a very important role in the maintenance of grasslands.

However, domestic livestock has now replaced native herbivores and thousands of their populations have been decimated primarily by apparent competition. Although livestock farming has been considered one of the main causes of grassland degradation, very little is known about its interactive effects on native flora and fauna and possible effects on ecosystems.

Since 2006 we have established a long-term experiment in the grasslands of Janos, Chihuahua, Mexico which simultaneously manipulates prairie dogs and domestic livestock in four key treatments (+Prairie Dogs -Livestock; +Prairie Dogs +Livestock; -Prairie Dogs +Livestock; -Prairie Dogs -Livestock). The objective of this work is to help understand the relationships and interactive functions of these key herbivores and understand the possible impact of livestock and wildlife management in the restoration and conservation of grasslands in northwest Mexico.

This work is carried out in collaboration with the University of New Mexico (UNM) and the United States Department of Agriculture in New Mexico (USDA-ARS).

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Habitat use and conservation of the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) in the southern limit of its geographical distribution.

The North American porcupine is considered an endangered species in Mexico since its distribution is limited to a few localities in the north of the country. The only population studied in Mexico lives in northwestern Chihuahua, within the Janos Biosphere Reserve. Although it has been declared a natural protected area the region continues to suffer severe degradation which threatens the permanence of fragile communities such as riparian areas and a large number of species that depend on them.

Between 2006 and 2009 we determined the abundance, the home range and evaluated the use and selection of porcupine habitat through the use of telemetry. Field data revealed an abundance of 0.38 individuals per km2 and an average home range size of 329 hectares. These values represent the lowest abundance and the largest home range reported for the species in North America. Porcupines use mainly riparian forests and mesquite shrubs but show a strong selection towards riparian vegetation where the fragmentation of the few riparian forests in the reserve seriously threatens the viability of porcupine populations.

The loss of northern porcupine populations in the region may lead to shrinkage of geographic distribution and lead to local extinction of the species. This study provides useful information on the identification of critical sites for the conservation of porcupines and many other species that depend on riparian areas.

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Reintroduction and translocation of native species

The black-footed ferret, one the rarest mammals in the world, reintroduction program began in 2001. This weasel depends almost exclusively on prairie dogs as prey and its distribution has been alarmingly reduced until the edge of extinction. To date more than 300 ferrets have been released in Janos and since 2002 the first offsprings born in the wild Mexico have been located.

In 2011 we began the prairie dogs’ translocation program to repopulate areas of grassland where they have been extirpated. We have translocated more than 150 individuals being this the first reported attempt to reestablish colonies of prairie dogs in Mexico. We are currently developing the basic methodology for the restoration of colonies of prairie dogs at the large-scale.

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Ecology and Conservation of low forests in Chamela, Jalisco

The project “Ecology of Small Mammals in the Dry Forest of Chamela” began in 1986. The objective was to evaluate the influence of environmental heterogeneity on population dynamics and on the structure of communities of small tropical mammals. Information has been generated since 1990 and has allowed us to have the longest database for a dry tropical ecosystem.

Small projects have been carried out throughout these years. The possible effect of the “El Niño” phenomenon on small mammal species was evaluated; The structure and content of Liomys pictus burrows; The habitat use of arboreal rodent species of which there is little information and the spatial and temporal variation of the community structure.

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Conservation in Latin America

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Colombia

In partnership with “The Sierra to Sea Institute” and “ProCAT” Colombia, the laboratory is currently developing research and conservation projects in several regions of Colombia, including the Caribbean region, the Amazon region and soon in the Orinoquía. The work of the laboratory in Colombia is focused on the development of conservation projects based on a robust scientific background as basis for the decision making, while also working hard in the training of human capital through the training of students and the building of capabilities in ecology, conservation and management.

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Costa Rica

Our work in Costa Rica has been developing since the 90’s where we carried out the first research projects south of the country. Our involvement with Costa Rican science and conservation has a long history and we are currently developing several initiatives in terms of both basic and applied research and scientific dissemination and diffusion. We are currently working with “The Sierra to Sea Institute” on a number of field projects, focusing on connectivity, functional diversity, feline ecology and conservation and applied conservation biology through research projects in some of the most important biodiversity areas in the country. In addition, we are developing editorial and educational projects on the country’s biodiversity, both for dissemination and scientific purposes, supporting the management of Costa Rica’s biodiversity and as an example for other countries in the region.

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Peru

Our work in Peru began in 2011 in collaboration with a team of Peruvian researchers led by Dr. Horacio Zeballos of the Museum of Natural History of the University of San Agustín in Arequipa.

Our research in this country has been focused on the search for new species for science and new records of distribution areas of vertebrate species mainly mammals, amphibians and reptiles.
Together we carried out an expedition to the national sanctuary “Tabaconas Namballe”, in the province of Cajamarca, where we found eight new species of mammals and three species of amphibians. This is the most important biodiversity discovery in recent years because all these species of animals were discovered in a very small area located on the Atlantic slope of the Peruvian Andes, near the border with Ecuador.

In 2012 we carried out an expedition to the historic sanctuary of Machupicchu where the preliminary results of our collections suggest that this may be an important site for the discovery of new species.
These works have spread all over the world having a great impact for the science and also for the conservation of the ecosystems of Peru and of the biodiversity in America.

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