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Ecological thresholds and large carnivores conservation: Implications for the Amur tiger and leopard in China


The ecological threshold concept describes how changes in one or more factors at thresholds can result in a large shift in the state of an ecosystem. This concept focuses attention on limiting factors that affect the tolerance of systems or organisms and changes in them. Accumulating empirical evidence for the existence of ecological thresholds has created favorable conditions for practical application to wildlife conservation. Applying the concept has the potential to enhance conservation of two large carnivores, Amur tiger and leopard, and the knowledge gained could guide the construction of a proposed national park. In this review, ecological thresholds that result from considering a paradigm of bottom-up control were evaluated for their potential to contribute to the conservation of Amur tiger and leopard. Our review highlights that large carnivores, as top predators, are potentially affected by ecological thresholds arising from changes in climate (or weather), habitat, vegetation, prey, competitors, and anthropogenic disturbances. What's more, interactions between factors and context dependence need to be considered in threshold research and conservation practice, because they may amplify the response of ecosystems or organisms to changes in specific drivers. Application of the threshold concept leads to a more thorough evaluation of conservation needs, and could be used to guide future Amur tiger and leopard research and conservation in China. Such application may inform the conservation of other large carnivores worldwide.

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