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Switzerland, Switzerland

Kaczensky P.,University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna | Ganbataar O.,Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area Administration | Ganbataar O.,National University of Mongolia | Altansukh N.,Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area Administration | And 3 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2011

Large mammals re-introduced into harsh and unpredictable environments are vulnerable to stochastic effects, particularly in times of global climate change. The Mongolian Gobi is home to several rare large ungulates such as re-introduced Przewalski's horses (Equus ferus przewalskii) and Asiatic wild asses (Equus hemionus), but also to a millennium-old semi-nomadic livestock herding culture. The Gobi is prone to large inter-annual environmental fluctuations, but the winter 2009/2010 was particularly severe. Millions of livestock died and the Przewalski's horse population in the Gobi crashed. We used spatially explicit livestock loss statistics, ranger survey data and GPS telemetry to provide insight into the effect of a catastrophic climate event on the two sympatric wild equid species and the livestock population in light of their different space use strategies. Herders in and around the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area lost on average 67% of their livestock. Snow depth varied locally, resulting in livestock losses following an east-west gradient. Herders had few possibilities for evasion, as competition for available winter camps was high. Przewalski's horses used three different winter ranges, two in the east and one in the west. Losses averaged 60%, but differed hugely between east and west. Space use of Przewalski's horses was extremely conservative, as groups did not attempt to venture beyond their known home ranges. Asiatic wild asses seemed to have suffered few losses by shifting their range westwards. The catastrophic winter 2009/2010 provided a textbook example for how vulnerable small and spatially confined populations are in an environment prone to environmental fluctuations and catastrophes. This highlights the need for disaster planning by local herders, multiple re-introduction sites with spatially dispersed populations for re-introduced Przewalski's horses, and a landscape-level approach beyond protected area boundaries to allow for migratory or nomadic movements in Asiatic wild asses. © 2011 Kaczensky et al.

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