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First records and abundance of margay Leopardus wiedii from semi-arid thorny scrub habitat of the Brazilian Caatinga

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The margay (Leopardus wiedii) is a small to medium sized Neotropical felid classified as Vulnerable in Brazil. The species' northeastern range limits and use of open vegetation habitats has not been properly defined. The Caatinga biome is composed of a variable mosaic of semi-arid scrub/forest habitats and dominates the northeast region of Brazil. To date, it has not been confirmed that margays use the more open semi-arid thorny scrub habitat which is most characteristic of this region (the caatinga scrub). This study presents data from the first camera trap records for margays occurring in caatinga scrub, and documents new localities which constitute an extension of the species' range in northeastern Brazil. Resumen El margay (Leopardus wiedii) es un felino de tamaño pequeño a mediano clasificado como vulnerable en Brasil. Los rangos de distribución nororiental de la especie y el uso de hábitat en ambientes abiertos no han sido bien definidos. El bioma Caatinga está compuesto por un mosaico de ambientes semiáridos arbustivos y forestales, los cuales dominan la región nororiente de Brasil. A la fecha no se ha confirmado el uso del hábitat semiárido abierto arbustivo espinoso que es característico de esta región (la caatinga propiamente dicha). Este estudio presenta los primeros registros de margay en cámaras trampa en la caatinga y documenta nuevas localidades que constituyen la ampliación del rango de distribución de esta especie en el nororiente brasileño.
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ISSN versión impresa: 1870-3453; versión electrónica: 2007-8706; Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Biología.
Open Access bajo la licencia CC BY-NC-ND (4.0) https://doi.org/10.22201/ib.20078706e.2018.1.1940
Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 89 (2018): 321-326
Research note
First records and abundance of margay Leopardus wiedii from semi-arid
thorny scrub habitat of the Brazilian Caatinga
Primeros registros y abundancia de margay Leopardus wiedii en hábitat de matorral
espinoso semiárido de la Caatinga brasileña
Lyse P. C. Meira a, Alex R. Pereira a, Jackson M. Ministro a, Driele M. Santos a, Eva C. Aroucha b,
Tadeu G. de Oliveira c, *
a Bioconsultoria Ambiental LTDA., Rua 02 de Julho, Centro, No. 35, Caetité – BA 46400-000/ Brazil
b Renova Energia S.A., Avenida Tancredo Neves, Caminho das árvores, No. 450, Andar 23º e 25º. Salvador-BA 41820-901, Brazil
c Depto. Biologia, Universidade Estadual do Maranhão / Instituto Pró-Carnívoros / Pró-Vida Brasil / Rua das Quaresmeiras Qd-8, No. 14, São
Luís-MA, 65076-270, Brazil
* Corresponding author: tadeu4@yahoo.com (T.G. de Oliveira)
Recibido: 29 septiembre 2016; aceptado: 16 agosto 2017
Abstract
The margay (Leopardus wiedii) is a small to medium sized Neotropical felid classified as Vulnerable in Brazil.
The species’ northeastern range limits and use of open vegetation habitats has not been properly defined. The Caatinga
biome is composed of a variable mosaic of semi-arid scrub/forest habitats and dominates the northeast region of
Brazil. To date, it has not been confirmed that margays use the more open semi-arid thorny scrub habitat which is
most characteristic of this region (the caatinga scrub). This study presents data from the first camera trap records
for margays occurring in caatinga scrub, and documents new localities which constitute an extension of the species’
range in northeastern Brazil.
Keywords: Caatinga domain; Camera trap; Distribution; Relative abundance; Northeast Brazil
Resumen
El margay (Leopardus wiedii) es un felino de tamaño pequeño a mediano clasificado como vulnerable en Brasil.
Los rangos de distribución nororiental de la especie y el uso de hábitat en ambientes abiertos no han sido bien definidos.
El bioma Caatinga está compuesto por un mosaico de ambientes semiáridos arbustivos y forestales, los cuales dominan
la región nororiente de Brasil. A la fecha no se ha confirmado el uso del hábitat semiárido abierto arbustivo espinoso
que es característico de esta región (la caatinga propiamente dicha). Este estudio presenta los primeros registros de
margay en cámaras trampa en la caatinga y documenta nuevas localidades que constituyen la ampliación del rango
de distribución de esta especie en el nororiente brasileño.
Palabras clave: Dominio Caatinga; Cámara trampa; Distribución; Abundancia relativa; Noreste de Brasil
322 L.P.C. Meira et al. / Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 89 (2018): 321-326
https://doi.org/10.22201/ib.20078706e.2018.1.1940
There are currently 38 extant species of wild felids in
the world, 11 of which occur in the Neotropical region
of the Americas, 9 in Brazil alone (Hunter, 2015). The
Caatinga biome, or “White forest” (translated from the
original indigenous word), comprises a mosaic of semi-
arid scrub/forest and is located in northeastern Brazil.
Six felid species have been recorded in this vast area,
including jaguar (Panthera onca), puma (Puma concolor),
jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi), ocelot (Leopardus
pardalis), northern-tiger cat (Leopardus tigrinus), and
margay (Leopardus wiedii) (Oliveira et al., 2003). The
latter only for the forest enclaves (Oliveira, 1994, 1998;
Tortato et al., 2013).
The margay is a small to medium sized spotted cat
(ca. 3.3 kg). Its conservation status is near threatened
worldwide, and currently vulnerable in Brazil (Oliveira,
1998; Oliveira & Cassaro, 2005; Oliveira et al., 2015;
Tortato et al., 2013). Although the species is listed as
occurring in all of the biomes within the territory of Brazil,
it is mainly associated with forested habitats ranging
from dense and continuous forest to fragments and forest
enclaves within the open vegetation biomes of the cerrado
and pampas (Oliveira, 1994, 1998; Tortato et al., 2013).
However, it is debatable if margay actually range in
the more semi-arid formations characteristic of the open
Caatinga biome (Oliveira, 1994). To date, they have been
described as restricted to forest enclaves within the biome,
being Atlantic forest remnants at higher altitudes, or the
forested areas located in valleys and canyons, such as
those characteristic of Serra da Capivara National Park.
As such, the extent of the species’ range in the Caatinga
domain is marked as unknown on several distribution maps
(Nowell & Jackson, 1996; Oliveira, 1994; Oliveira et al.,
2015). Its worldwide distribution is also being updated by
new records (e.g., Aranda & Valenzuela-Galván, 2015;
Farías et al., 2015). The aim of this paper is to document
the first confirmed observations of margays using open
formations in the Caatinga domain and to estimate their
relative abundance there. We also present reliable location
records that will help improve the accuracy of distribution
maps for the species.
The area in question is located in the municipalities of
Caetité, Igaporã and Urandi, in the state of Bahia, northeast
Brazil, and is the path of a series of wind energy projects
that were already either installed and operational or were
under construction at the time of this study. Temperatures
in this area are nearly constant at approximately 21oC,
while precipitation varies from 800 mm to 1,000 mm,
and is concentrated in a 4-month rainy season (500 mm
from November to January). The area is within the Serra
do Espinhaço mountain range and is dominated by a
mosaic of vegetation types featuring Brazilian savanna
(cerrado), seasonal deciduous forests, semi-arid thorny
scrub (caatinga), and carrasco, a transitional formation of
cerrado-caatinga (Zappi, 2008). In general, the landscape
is characterized by small rural properties, subsistence
agriculture and small-scale cattle ranching. Although there
are also a variety of agricultural projects, livestock tends
to be grazed on the native scrub vegetation. The impact
of anthropogenic activities such as road building, wind
farms, pasture, crop plantations, subsistence agriculture,
and deforestation resulting in forest fragments in different
stages of regeneration, is thus considerable in this area
(Barreto, 2014; Sampaio, 2010).
At elevations above 1,000 m in the Espinhaço Range,
savanna (cerrado) formations that transition from grasslands
to sparse and woody formations dominate the sandy soil
plateaus. The physiognomy of the remaining caatinga
vegetation is that of shrubs averaging 2-4 m in height,
and some sparsely occurring small trees from 5-8 m tall.
This particular type of physiognomy, the caatinga proper
or caatinga scrub, is mostly found at the marginal levels
of the Espinhaço Range (700-900 m), and has suffered
severe impacts from anthropogenic activities (Pirani et al.,
2003; Zappi, 2008). Deciduous forest is more restricted
in range and is associated with the more fertile soils that
occur discontinuously in the mountain valleys, where
there is also a greater accumulation of water and nutrients
(Almeida-Abreu & Renger, 2002; Azevedo et al., 2009).
Since these forested areas are often located in places
where access is relatively difficult, the vegetation tends to
be better preserved, sometimes harboring 10-20 m tall trees
with a closed canopy formation and significant understory
vegetation including lianas and epiphytes. Such places are
of particular importance because they are essentially forest
enclaves, usually located in steep valleys and gullies that
facilitate rainwater drainage and protect the source of
many rivers in the area. They are remnants of the once
more widespread Brazilian tropical Atlantic Forest biome.
There are also carrasco formations in the area, a type of
mixed transitional vegetation of woodland savanna and
caatinga scrub. Although there is some disagreement about
its definition, some botanists consider carrasco to be a
proper type of vegetation, composed of a plant species
community that combines elements of Caatinga, cerrado
and forest formations (Rizzini, 1997).
We generated data regarding margay occurrence
through use of camera traps while conducting faunal
monitoring at wind parks in the state of Bahia. We
installed 15 to 17 Bushnell Trophy Cam XLT cameras on
trees or posts at a height of about 50 cm, from 1 to 50 km
apart. To improve the incidence of wildlife detections, we
baited the camera trap sites with sausage, chicken pieces,
fruits and roots (Srbek-Araújo & Chiarello, 2007; Tomas
L.P.C. Meira et al. / Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 89 (2018): 321-326 323
https://doi.org/10.22201/ib.20078706e.2018.1.1940
& Miranda, 2003). We undertook 3 sampling periods, one
each in 2012, 2014 and 2015 at the same sites in the area
of the Espinhaço Range. Cameras were located within
all the vegetative formations found (savanna, seasonal
deciduous forests, semi-arid thorny scrub [caatinga], and
carrasco).
We recorded 5 different margay individuals on 6
occasions, in 4 different areas after a total effort of 4,260
trap-days. One was recorded in a habitat characterized
by the semi-arid thorny scrub (caatinga) in Caetité
(14o00’20.78” S, 42o38’39.62” W), on 30/07/2015 (Fig.
1A). The remaining 5 were in areas of dry deciduous forest
habitat. Four were in Igaporã at 2 different camera stations
(13o51’18.59” S, 42o40’19.51” W and 13o52’52.98” S,
42o40’29.02” W) on 15/10/2012, 08/10/2012, 19/10/2012,
and 12/01/2014 and the other was in Urandi (14o32’08.78”
S, 42o35’04.08” W) on 19/07/2015 (Fig. 1 B-F). These
new records extend the known range of the margay
considerably, by at least 325 km north, 234 km east and
162 km west of the known range, an area extension larger
than Portugal or French Guiana (> 90,000 km2) (Fig. 2).
They redefine the species’ distribution in northeastern
Brazil, the limits of which remain uncertain (Nowell &
Jackson, 1996; Oliveira, 1994; Oliveira et al., 2015), and
go some way towards bridging this gap in knowledge
and helping to define the potential distributional models
of margays in northeast Brazil. Additionally, these data
represent the first confirmed records of the species using
the open vegetation formations that are characteristic of
semi-arid caatinga thorny scrub habitats.
Figure 1. The first records of margay (Leopardus wiedii) in the open caatinga semi-arid thorny scrub (A) and in the dry deciduous
forests (B, C, D, E, F) of the Caatinga domain in northeast Brazil.
324 L.P.C. Meira et al. / Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 89 (2018): 321-326
https://doi.org/10.22201/ib.20078706e.2018.1.1940
Thus, it seems that although the species may have
evolved a preference for more forested habitats, it also
makes use of open formations, even if only secondarily.
The use of dry forests by margays has also been reported
in Mexico (Valenzuela-Galván et al., 2013). Additionally,
Hodge (2014) recently showed that margays use areas
with 51-75% canopy cover to a greater extent than the
denser forest locations in the eastern Andean foothills
of Ecuador. These observations suggest that the species
is far more flexible in its use of dense vegetation cover
than previously thought, which our findings corroborate.
Interestingly, 3 of our records were obtained during
daylight hours, an unusual time for the species to be active:
the vast majority of camera trap records to date have been
nocturne-crepuscular ones (Oliveira et al., unpublished
data; Vanderoff et al., 2011).
As expected, the abundance of margays observed here
(0.141 records/100 trap-days) is relatively low, especially
Figure 2. Current margay (Leopardus wiedii) distribution map showing new records for the species in northeast Brazil according to
the IUCN.
L.P.C. Meira et al. / Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 89 (2018): 321-326 325
https://doi.org/10.22201/ib.20078706e.2018.1.1940
in comparison to other areas in the cerrado, Atlantic Forest
and Amazon biomes in Brazil, where the species average
is 0.7 records/100 trap-days (Oliveira, 2011). Abundance
in the specific caatinga scrub habitat was even lower,
at 0.081 records/100 trap-days. Thus, it is possible to
conclude that, given the relatively low relative abundance,
this felid is rare in both the biome and specific habitat
of the Brazilian Caatinga (see Oliveira et al., 2018). In
the tropical deciduous forest of southern Puebla, Mexico,
margay abundance was found to be 0.112 records/100
trap-days (Farías et al., 2015), similar to that found in
this study. Conversely, in the Andean foothill forests of
Ecuador, where the species is considered quite common,
the relative abundance of margays was 2.64 records/100
trap-days (Vanderhoff et al., 2011). Therefore, although
margays are present within the Caatinga biome, it seems
that they have a marginal distribution and a very small
population size. It is likely to represent a sink population
from the nearby Atlantic Forest. Given their conservation
status, and the species abundance found in the study area,
this population should be regarded as highly threatened,
particularly as it is currently under considerable pressure
from anthropogenic activities. Since the margay is already
classified as a Vulnerable species in Brazil (Tortato et
al., 2013), we recommend that environmental authorities
should give special attention to this recently discovered
population.
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... The area is 950 m above sea level, and precipitation in Caetité varies between 800 and 1000 mm, concentrated between November and March, with an average temperature of 21 °C (Meira et al. 2018). The vegetation in the Malange farm presents the distinctive aspect of xeric vegetation: relatively dense and shrub-tree strata, showing trees from 6-to 8-m high, which lose their leaves entirely in the dry season ( Fig. 2a) compared to the rainy period (Fig. 2b), more characteristic of the semiarid Caatinga domain. ...
... The south-central region of the Bahia state, located in northeastern Brazil and north of Serra do Espinhaço, where the municipality of Caetité is located, has a complex relief (800-1000 m). The region is covered by a mosaic of vegetation formations that includes enclaves of shrub-tree vegetation (semiarid thorny scrub vegetation), dry forests (seasonal deciduous forests), savanna (Cerrado), and carrasco (Cerrado-Caatinga transition) (Zappi 2008;Meira et al. 2018). In terms of the vegetation domain, this marked environmental heterogeneity means that the region is classified in different ways according to the available literature. ...
... The heterogeneity of vegetation types and habitats found in the north of Serra do Espinhaço seems to favor the presence of species, generally, less related to dry environments. As it is the case of the recent record of the margay Leopardus wiedii, a small wild felid specialized to humid forests registered in a semiarid Caatinga thorny scrub area and dry deciduous forests in the municipalities of Caetité, Guanambi, and Urandi (Meira et al. 2018). On the other hand, it seems unlikely that L. vetulus occupies semiarid environments in the center of the Caatinga (Abra et al. 2020), very far from mesic and savanna areas, and where mammalian adaptations to harsh environments are strongly required (Stoner and Timm 2011). ...
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En junio de 2014 se confirmó la presencia de margay (Leopardus wiedii) en la fracción i del Área de Protección de Flora y Fauna Corredor Biológico Chichinautzin, Morelos, México. El registro se basa en 4 clips de video tomados por una cámara automática ubicada a 2,750 m de altitud, en bosque mesófilo de montana. ˜ Este registro es la segunda evidencia confirmada de la presencia de poblaciones de margay en el estado de Morelos, así como el primer registro para el Corredor Biológico Chichinautzin, el cual expande el área de distribución del margay en el centro de México, alrededor de 60 km al norte-noroeste del primer registro para Morelos, en la Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra de Huautla.
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