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Connectivity and conservation of Western Chimpanzee ( Pan troglodytes verus ) habitat in Liberia

Amy E. Frazier, Miroslav Honzák, Catherine Hudson, Rebecca Perlin, Alonzo Tohtsonie, Keith D. Gaddis, Celio Sousa, Trond H. Larsen, Jessica Junker, Sylvain Nyandwi, Andrew B. Trgovac

Diversity & Distributions, 27, 1235-1250

May 06, 2021

Aim: As part of the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa, Liberia has pledged to include the value of nature in national decision making through natural capital accounting. Surveying species of concern, such as the western chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus), which was recently reclassified as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and identifying protection priority areas are critical first steps towards achieving Liberia's goal to conserve 30% of its remaining forests and supporting the wave of conservation projects taking place in the country. Location: Liberia, Africa. Methods: We modelled western chimpanzee habitat suitability, focusing on determining relevant environmental predictors and the most appropriate scale for modelling species–habitat relationships. We built models at six resolutions (30–960 m) to identify scale domains where relationships remain constant. We include several habitat variables that have not been included in prior modelling efforts. We then used the suitability map as the conductance input into a connectivity analysis using Circuitscape. Results: The amount of forest within 1–3 km was the most important predictor of chimpanzee occurrence. Variable ranks and importance shifted considerably between modelling scales, supporting the need for multiscale investigations, but scale domains were present. Several important corridors for chimpanzee habitat and movement overlap considerably with existing timber and palm oil concessions and overlap mining and rubber concessions to a lesser degree. Main conclusions: The proportion of primary forest within 1–3 km is critically important for chimpanzee habitat. Ongoing conservation projects and efforts taking place in Liberia including the Good Growth Partnership and the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa can utilize the spatial findings on connectivity provided by this study to inform future conservation decisions, particularly expanding exiting protected areas.

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Frazier, A. E., Honzák, M., Hudson, C., Perlin, R., Tohtsonie, A., Gaddis, K. D., … Trgovac, A. B. (2021). Connectivity and conservation of Western Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus) habitat in Liberia. Diversity and Distributions, 27(7), 1235–1250. doi:10.1111/ddi.13270