Climate change threatens Iberian lynx

The Iberian lynx is the most endangered wild cat species worldwide. Iberian Lynx Conservation Breeding Program

The world's most endangered cat species could be extinct within the next 50 years, according to British researchers. The likeliest way to save the Iberian lynx, their study shows, is to base conservation efforts around climate change, and how it impacts prey.

"Climate change could further threaten the survival of the species, but its forecast effects are being neglected in recovery plans," the authors wrote in their study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. Most of the efforts, which include habitat management, reducing human interference in habitat and reintroducing species into their natural habitats, fail to account for declines in the population of prey. In the case of the Iberian lynx, population decline is related to a decline in their main prey, the European rabbit, according to the authors.

As climate change continues, the habitat is expected to become less hospitable.

"Current management efforts could be futile if they don't take into account the combined effects of climate change, land use and prey abundance on population dynamics of the Iberian lynx," lead author Dr. Damien Fordham said in a press release.

There are about 250 Iberian lynx living in two communities in the wild, a decline from nine communities that were living in the 1990s. The study authors say more than 90-million Euros have been spent on conservation efforts since 1994.

"Models used to investigate how climate change will affect biodiversity have so far been unable to capture the dynamic and complex feedbacks of species interactions," said co-author Dr Miguel Araujo, a Spanish Research Council (CSIC) senior researcher at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid. "By developing new forecasting methods, we have managed, for the first time, to simulate demographic responses of lynx to spatial patterns of rabbit abundance conditioned by disease, climate change and land use modification."

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    Danielle Elliot is a freelance science editor and reporter for CBS News. She holds an M.A. in science and health journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in broadcast journalism from the University of Maryland. Follow her on Twitter - @daniellelliot.