QUANTIFYING VULNERABILITY OF PENINSULAR MALAYSIA’S TIGER LANDSCAPE TO FUTURE FOREST LOSS
Loboda, Tatiana V.
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Agricultural expansion has been the dominant driver of tropical deforestation and increased consumption of commodities and resulting global trade have become distal drivers of land cover change. Habitat loss and fragmentation threaten biodiversity globally. Peninsular Malaysia, particularly, has a long history of land cover land use change and expansion of plantations like those of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). Deforestation and plantation expansion threaten the Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksonii), a critically endangered subspecies of the tiger endemic to the Malay Peninsula. Conservation of tigers and their long-term viability requires not only the protection of habitat patches but also maintenance of corridors connecting habitat patches. The goal of this dissertation was to understand patterns of recent forest loss and conversions, determine the drivers of these changes, and model future forest loss and changes to landscape connectivity for tigers. Satellite remote sensing data were used to map and estimate the extent of forest loss and forest conversions to plantations within Peninsular Malaysia. Mapped forest conversions to industrial oil palm plantations were used to model the factors influencing such conversions and the constraints to recent and future conversions. Finally, the mapped forest loss was used to model the deforestation probability for the region and develop scenarios of future forest loss. This study indicates that despite the history of land cover change and an extensive area under plantations, natural forest loss has continued within Peninsular Malaysia with about half of the cleared forests being converted to plantations. Proximity to pre-existing oil palm plantations is the most important determinant of forest conversions to oil palm. Such conversions are increasingly in more marginal lands indicating that biophysical suitability alone cannot determine where future conversions might take place. Forest conversions to oil palm plantations within the region are more constrained by accessibility to infrastructure rather than biophysical suitability for oil palm. The projected patterns of loss indicate lowland forests along the southeastern coast and in the center of the Peninsula are most vulnerable to future loss. This projected loss will likely reduce the connectivity between forest patches further isolating tiger populations in the southern part of the Peninsula. This study demonstrates the continued pressure on Peninsular Malaysia’s forests, the potential impact of persistent deforestation on forest connectivity, and draws attention to the need for conservation and restoration of forest linkages to ensure viability of the remaining Malayan tiger population.