Protecting the Southern River Otter: Investigating their Distribution and Population Structure, and Promoting Public Awareness

Rosario Ballester

Southern River Otters (lontra provocax) (SRO) (EN), disappeared from 80 % of its original freshwater range. Today, despite being protected and no longer hunted, only a few populations survive in northern Patagonia, mostly within National Parks. They struggle to recover mainly due to increasing habitat fragmentation and hindering natural corridors. As part of a larger initiative to restore SRO populations and by combining a variety of surveying techniques I aim to produce sound information on the species’ current distribution and population structure. Simultaneously I will record media material for upcoming educational and outreach campaigns.

The main objective is to update information about its distribution in Northern Patagonia. We will also survey the habitat quality at lake shores and riverbanks with the objective to construct a habitat suitability and connectivity map to design a recovery plan and evaluate where to favour natural recovery and where assisted actions are needed. We also aim to understand the population structure of the SRO in northern Patagonia by analysing its DNA extracted from faeces samples. Using the same samples, we will also analyse SRO’s diet in the different basins. Knowing the SRO distribution together with Habitat Suitability Model and a Connectivity map, it will allow for spatial hypotheses to be generated about areas where recolonization is expected to occur through natural processes while also visualising areas that remain difficult to connect and where the species recovery will need to be assisted. This information represents the nucleus for the design of a future recovery plan for this species.

Simultaneously I will record media material for upcoming educational and outreach campaigns as the SRO is not a very known species. This aims to build a sense of identity amongst the local communities and contribute to the protection of the species. Although the SRO is the flagship species of Nahuel Huapi National Park, it is not widely known therefore the project will produce awareness campaigns and make the species better known amongst the local community. These will be important as SRO shares lake and river shores with rapidly growing urbanisation, and engaging the local community in the protection of these areas will be crucial for the success of this project.

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