The priority value of scrubland habitats for carnivore conservation in Mediterranean ecosystems
Carnivores are umbrella species with a key role in ecosystems. In the Mediterranean, they face with several conservation problems, mainly habitat loss or transformation. In this region, scrubland habitats are considered of minor conservation relevance as compared to mature forest formations. Conservation of scrublands in Mediterranean ecosystems is also diffcult because to control fires, they are removed over large areas. For carnivores, scrublands may be essential to guarantee shelter and food. Here, we analyzed the importance of scrublands and other habitat variables in determining the richness of medium-sized carnivores in a typical Mediterranean area of central Spain (Monfragüe Natural Park). The Park was divided into plots of 2 x 2km (n = 30). In each plot, a 2 km-length survey route was walked searching for carnivore scats. We recorded the number of species of carnivores and we related this value to several habitat variables. Habitat variables were summarized by means of Principal Component Analysis (PCA). Habitat models were developed by, using multiple regression models, including PCA factors and the habitat type as predictors. The only variable included in the final model was the first PCA factor. Carnivore richness was positively associated with large tree, shrub, and rock cover areas, which is the typical habitat structure of scrublands. This habitat offers the best available area for shelter and may be considered as a key element for carnivore conservation in the Mediterranean region. To reconciliate carnivore conservation and forestry management, we proposed small-scale clearances as a management alternative to typical large scrubland removals.