Large mammals face high risks of anthropogenic extinction owing to their larger body mass and associated life history traits. Recent worldwide mammal declines have highlighted the conservation importance of effective assessments of trends in distribution and abundance of species. Yet reliable data depicting the nature and extent of changes in population parameters is sparse, primarily due to logistical problems in covering large areas and difficulties in obtaining reliable information at large spatial scales, particularly over time. We used key informant surveys to generate detection histories for 18 species of large mammals (body mass > 2 kg) at two points in time (present and 30 years ago) in the Southern subregion of the Western Ghats global biodiversity hotspot. Multiple-season occupancy models were used to assess temporal trends in occupancy, detectability and vital rates of extinction and colonization for each species. Our results show significant declines in distribution for large carnivores, the Asian elephant and endemic ungulates and primates. There is a significant decline in detectability for 16 species, which suggests a decline in their abundance. These patterns of change in distribution and abundance repeat in our assessments of spatial variation in occupancy dynamics between the three contiguous forest complexes and two human-dominated landscapes into which the southern Western Ghats has been fragmented. Extinction rates are highest in the human-dominated landscapes. Declines in abundance for several species suggest the presence of extinction debts, which may soon be repaid with imminent range contractions and subsequent species extinctions unless immediate remedial conservation measures are taken. Detection/non-detection surveys of key informants used in an occupancy modeling framework provide potential for rapid conservation status assessments of multiple species across large spatial scales over time.
Biological Conservation 144: 1567-1576