The flooding of land for hydroelectric dams is an important driver of global tiger and jaguar habitat loss, according to a study published in Communications Biology.
Hydroelectric dams convert energy from flowing water — often stored in a reservoir created from the flooding of land — into electricity. Previous research has suggested that hydroelectric dam construction could pose a threat to tiger and jaguar habitats but the magnitude of this threat has been unclear.
Ana Filipa Palmeirim and Luke Gibson identified existing and planned hydroelectric dams in countries with tiger and jaguar populations — such as India and Indonesia or Brazil and Bolivia — from databases, published studies, and reports. They calculated the potential impact of dam and reservoir construction on these species by comparing dam locations with published data on the size and location of tiger and jaguar habitats and estimates of their population sizes and distributions.
The researchers identified 585 existing and 470 planned dams that intersect with tiger and jaguar habitats. They found that 13,751 km2 of tiger and 25,397 km2 of jaguar habitats have been flooded to create reservoirs for current hydroelectric dams. This is estimated to have affected more than one in five of the world’s known tiger populations (between 20.8 to 22.8%, 729 tigers) and one in two hundred of the world’s known jaguar populations (0.53%, 915 jaguars). The researchers also found that planned hydroelectric dams are expected to disproportionately affect jaguars, with more than 429 planned within jaguar habitats, compared to 41 within tiger habitats. While relatively fewer dams are planned within tiger habitats, most of these are expected to be constructed in priority conservation areas.
The authors recommend that future hydroelectric dams be constructed away from flat, flooding-prone areas in which jaguars live, such as the Amazon basin, and priority conservation areas to avoid further habitat loss for these species.
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