23 Sep 2020
The Return of the Jaguar: Predicting Potential Community-Wide Effects of a Formidable Predator
The recently created Iberá National Park preserves the largest wetland in Argentina, with a rich history of management, restoration, and conservation. My project aims to understand how medium and large vertebrates respond to these recovery processes and, particularly, to the reintroduction of the locally extinct jaguar. Through camera traps, drone surveys, and behavioural observations, I will evaluate the current status of jaguar potential prey species and prepare the ground for long-term monitoring and research. Cascading effects associated with apex predators can be of great magnitude though difficult to document. Iberá provides a unique opportunity for understanding the jaguar’s ecological role.
Conservation requires knowing what we are conserving and how it changes over time. To do this, it is necessary to carry out periodic monitoring that allows us to know the current state of populations in general and their changes over time, in order to understand their responses to stressors or management actions, and to evaluate alternative management measures.
Our overarching goal is to establish the basis for a long-term monitoring of medium and large vertebrates populations at key locations of the Iberá National Park in the context of ecological restoration efforts that includes the reintroduction of keystone species such as jaguars. To this aim, we are going to lead camera-trap and drone surveys to evaluate the current diversity of jaguar potential prey, its abundance, activity patterns and space-use in the core area of Iberá. In addition, we will extend behavioural studies carried out with capybaras to other potential jaguar prey such as marsh deer and pampas deer. With this information, we will establish a baseline and a survey protocol for long-term monitoring of these species in the area for evaluating the effects of the current and future conservation and restoration programs.
Our main interest is to collect key information to understand the jaguar ecological role in this ecosystem like its potential top-down effects.
Additionally, our plan is to obtain comparable information with previous surveys to increase our understanding of the role of other key components that have been recovering in the last 10 years, like the large herbivores. Examples of environmental recovery and reintroduction of fauna are still rare in the Neotropics, and most of them lack the background information and monitoring programs to allow a complete understanding of its effects. Hence the great importance of compiling information and establishing a baseline for a long-term monitoring program at Iberá.