Assessing dam implementation impact on threatened carnivores: the case of Alqueva in SE Portugal.


Large dam construction in water deficient areas is a management decision often controversial. Besides providing water storage, economical benefits, and a source of renewable energy, the construction and flooding caused by large dams cause disruptions in natural systems. We monitored the pre- and post-Alqueva dam impacts on the threatened carnivore species (polecat, otter, wildcat and Iberian lynx) populations in SE Portugal, and assessed which factors mostly contribute to post-dam distribution. Major short term impacts of large dams are: (1) increase in accessibility and human presence; (2) movement of heavy machinery and dam-workers; (3) deforestation with habitat loss and fragmentation; (4) change from lotic to lentic system; (5) lower prey availability and harsher capture; and (6) changes in land use adjacent to the reservoir. Thus, the response to those impacts can be predicted as a decline of polecat, wildcat and lynx distribution ranges, and a recovery of the otter from the severe short term impacts. Our results corroborate this hypothesis for all the species, especially during deforestation/early flooding. Otter\'s distribution range increased in the phase of greater impact, with a subsequent decrease with flooding. Our results suggest carnivores used \"escape\" areas with favourable habitat and prey conditions, however, the areas with higher probability of species presence decreased by two fold showing a drastic range reduction. To ensure populations\' survival of these charismatic threatened carnivore populations of Mediterranean landscapes of south-east Portugal, we propose continuing the monitoring program and the development of a conservation program for the subsisting areas of optimal and suboptimal habitats.


Santos M.J., Pedroso N., Ferreira J.P, Matos H., Sales-Luís T., Pereira I., Baltazar C., Grilo C., Cândido A.T., Sousa I., Santos-Reis M.

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