Is the Lesser Khingan Suitable for the Amur Tiger Restoration? Perspectives with the Current State of the Habitat and Prey Base
The Amur tiger (Panthera tigris) has a status of being endangered on the world’s IUCN red list. The northwestern part of its range is situated in Russia and China, where tigers were exterminated by humans in the 1950–1970s. To restore tiger population within a historical range, an estimation of the habitat suitability is firstly needed. The Lesser Khingan mountains (Heilongjiang) was analyzed. Habitat types were mapped by satellite images analysis and field proven. The potential habitats of the main tiger’s prey species (wild boar (Sus scrofa), roe deer (Capreolus pygargus), and red deer (Cervus elaphus xanthopygus) were also assessed. Maximum entropy and linear discriminant analysis methods were applied and compared for species distribution modeling (SDM). Species distribution maps were used to design an ecological network. The fragmentation of habitat patches was evaluated by spatial ecological metrics. The habitat patches with the best metrics were assigned as cores for the ecological network, which were connected by calculated corridors. The least cost distance method (based on distance to roads and settlements) was used. The recovery of the Amur tiger in habitats of China’s Lesser Khingan is shown to be possible. Types of habitats were calculated as natural corridors for moving tigers. They are mainly located at the forests’ edges and characterized with various canopy structures and high variability in the tree species composition. Three potential transboundary corridors are described: (a) foothills and low mountains of the northern Lesser Khingan; (b) connection between the southeast Lesser Khingan and the western part of the Wandashan mountain system; and (c) corridor within foothills and low mountains of the eastern part of Lesser Khingan. It is recommended to establish protected areas for the important tiger core habitats, and the main optimal ways for their migrations are described during the current investigation. Moreover, it is necessary to implement habitat recovery activities for key areas.