The Iberian lynx, a bobcat native to Spain and Portugal and considered the world’s most endangered cat species, has been threatened for many years by humans, but within the next five decades will die out because of climate change.
According to a new study by researchers from the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for Macroecology Evolution and Climate, “Our models show that the anticipated climate change will lead to a rapid and dramatic decline of the Iberian lynx and probably eradicate the species within 50 years, in spite of the present-day conservation efforts,” Araujo, a professor at the university who is also affiliated with the Natural History Museum of Denmark explained.
“The only two populations currently present, will not be able to spread out or adapt to the changes in time” he added. “Fortunately, it is not too late to improve the outlook for the endangered lynx, if the management plans begin to take account of climate change.”
The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, considers new models which investigate how global warming will alter the availability of prey and the quality of natural areas in the years ahead.
“The scientists also modeled two other scenarios for the Iberian lynx, both based on a future prospect for releasing individuals from breeding programs into wild areas,” the university said. “They paint a more optimistic picture for the lynx’s survival, but the models clearly show that release programs also need to account for future climate change in order to achieve the best possible result.”
The study suggests that releasing about 20 to 40 lynxes that were bred in captivity should only be done in “top-quality habitats” north of Spain and Portugal that have the least fragmentation because that would offer the best chance of survival. To date, $130 million has been invested in protecting the 250 surviving lynx, RedOrbit reports.
With efforts from the conservationists the population of lynx has shown a slight improvement. But researchers caution that the ongoing conservation programs can successfully retain the species numbers just for a few decades as climate change will soon drive them to extinction.
“Models used to investigate how climate change will affect biodiversity have so far been unable to capture the dynamic and complex feedbacks of species interactions,” says Dr Miguel Araujo, Spanish Research Council (CSIC) Senior Researcher at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid. “By developing new forecasting methods, we have managed, for the first time, to simulate demographic responses of lynx to spatial patterns of rabbit abundance conditioned by disease, climate change, and land use modification.”
The study concludes that, “In stark contrast, we also show that a carefully planned reintroduction program, accounting for the effects of climate change, prey abundance and habitat connectivity, could avert extinction of the lynx this century,” essentially challenging lynx advocates and land managers to consider a new approach.
“One the one hand, conservation is demanding changes in the whole economy, less carbon emissions,” Araújo said. “But when they have a program, they usually forget about climate change.”
Saving the Endangered Iberian Lynx in Europe
National Geographic Channel webcast on saving endangered Iberian Lynx in Europe.