A GIS and Remote Sensing Assessment of the Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) Potential Range and Habitat Connectivity
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The snow leopard habitat lies within mountain ranges at high altitudes along steep, rugged terrain broken off by cliffs and ridges. Thus, researchers struggle to collect current data and accurate estimations of their global population are unknown. In order to help overcome these spatial analysis limitations, maximum entropy modelling (Maxent) was used to produce snow leopard potential habitat and Circuitscape was used to analyse habitat connectivity. Remote sensing data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) allows for the assessment of snow cover and vegetation activity using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). Alterations in snow cover and vegetation extent can correspond with climate change due to their sensitivity to temperature fluctuations. The Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission (SRTM) satellite sensor observes digital elevation models (DEM) of the study area, which validates snow leopards favouring high altitudes. Bioclimatic variables (Bioclim) analysed the variability of climate across the study area. A principal component analysis (PCA) was used on the 19 Bioclim variables in order to reduce autocorrelation and explain variation, where PCA band 1, band 2, and band 3 were selected as input variables. Maxent illustrated expected regions of potential habitat. Circuitscape depicted core habitat areas and then implemented the electric circuit theory to assess areas with high current flow, or high species movement.