Natural habitats in South America have been intensively used and modified, including their conversion to exotic tree plantations, impacting the terrestrial fauna communities. Carnivores play an important role in the functioning of ecosystems as apex predators. Landscape characteristics and resource availability determine the
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Natural habitats in South America have been intensively used and modified, including their conversion to exotic tree plantations, impacting the terrestrial fauna communities. Carnivores play an important role in the functioning of ecosystems as apex predators. Landscape characteristics and resource availability determine the composition and abundance of co-occurring carnivores. We hypothesized that the diversity and relative abundance of native carnivores varied in relation to the different vegetation macrohabitats. We predicted that native forests support a higher diversity and abundance of native carnivores compared to exotic plantations. Between 1 March 2021 and 31 March 2022, we estimated the species’ richness, composition, and relative abundance of terrestrial native carnivores in three different landscapes of the Coast Range in central Chile: (a) monoculture plantation of the exotic Pinus radiata
(MP); (b) Mediterranean coastal thorn forest (TF); and (c) Mediterranean coastal sclerophyllous forest (SF). We monitored an area of 1000 ha in each landscape, installing 10 camera traps (total of 30 camera traps). We used a monitoring transect with unbaited camera traps separated by 1 km, with a total photo-trapping effort of 10,046 camera days. The classification, organization, and analysis of camera trap data were conducted using CameraSweet software. The total number of independent native carnivore species events (photos separated > 60 min) recorded in each landscape were 1564 in SF, 1412 in TF, and 775 in MP. Carnivore richness and composition were not significantly different in all three landscapes. We detected five native carnivore species. Relative abundance by species was significantly higher in SF compared to MP for Leopardus guigna, Conepatus chinga,
and Galictis cuja
and also significantly higher in TF compared to MP for L. guigna.
Our results suggest that the native vegetation cover must be preserved to maintain viable and abundant native carnivore populations, crucially relevant in the highly impacted and human-dominated global biodiversity hotspot of Central Chile. This study contributes to informing evidence-based decision-making and conservation strategies at the landscape level to mitigate biodiversity loss.