Distributional estimates for a new mammal species, the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), using new localities, ecological niche models and forest cover data
Due to anthropogenic disturbances and ongoing climate change, cloud forest ecosystems are vulnerable, making the study of endemic species in these areas particularly important. Bassaricyon neblina, the Olinguito, is a newly discovered carnivoran mammal of the family Procyonidae, found within cloud forests of the Western and Central Andes of Colombia and Ecuador. We used ecological niche models (ENMs) to estimate abiotically suitable areas for B. neblina, and then compared them with forest cover and protected area maps. After extensive georeferencing to determine the most accurate coordinates possible, occurrence localities (16 from museums and 6 based on citizen-science photographs) were spatially filtered to reduce spatial autocorrelation, and combined with climatic variables to build ENMs in Maxent. We trained and tested models using a cross-validation approach, and the optimal model was chosen using sequential criteria of lowest omission rate and highest average AUC. The final model was then built using all filtered occurrence localities and optimal settings. MODIS (Vegetation Continuous Fields) data were used to extract forest cover values at each of the recent occurrence localities (post-2004). The abiotic prediction was then clipped using a deforestation tolerance threshold determined by the values at these localities, excluding two localities with the lowest values.
Preliminary results indicate a total suitable area of roughly 80,700 km2 for Bassaricyon neblina, which is only moderately tolerant of deforestation, with most recent localities corresponding to at least 20% forest cover. This suggests that the true area available to them is much smaller. Indeed, suitable forested areas across the geographic range of B. neblina are highly fragmented by deforestation, with 48% of the climatically suitable area being sufficiently forested, implying a substantial range contraction since European settlement. Furthermore, only an estimated 26% of suitable forests are currently protected by national parks or private reserves. This highlights the disparity between suitable areas sufficiently forested (ca. 39,000 km2) and the subset currently protected (ca. 10,000 km2). The largest areas of remaining suitable habitat occur in the northernmost portions of the Western and Central Cordilleras in Colombia, southwestern Colombia and northern Ecuador. In this case, the use of citizen science substantially increased the number of localities — showing the utility of public outreach in studying underrepresented charismatic taxa. In subsequent stages of this research, we will reassess the IUCN Red List status recommendations for this species and estimate the impacts of potential future climate change.