Biodiv Sci ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (1): 21157.  DOI: 10.17520/biods.2021157

• Original Papers: Animal Diversity •     Next Articles

Distribution pattern and identification of conservation priority areas of the otter in Northeast China

Chao Zhang1, Minhao Chen1, Li Yang2, Hongfei Zhuang1, Shuhong Wu1, Zhenjie Zhan1, Jiadong Wang1, Xiaofeng Luan1,*()   

  1. 1 School of Ecology and Nature Conservation, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing 100083
    2 School of Life Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275
  • Received:2021-04-24 Accepted:2021-08-26 Online:2022-01-20 Published:2022-01-29
  • Contact: Xiaofeng Luan


Aims: The otter is an indicator and flagship species of aquatic ecosystems. Its populations have undergone a drastic decline in China, and have become locally extinct in some regions due to anthropogenic disturbance. However, the current literature on otters in China is inadequate, which has subsequently affected conservation of the species. We aim to assess the potential distribution and conservation priority areas of the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) in Northeast China.

Methods: In this study, we integrated species distribution models with otter survey data from 2016 to 2020 to assess Eurasian otter distribution. Then, we used the geographic information system and core-area zonation algorithm in Zonation 4.00 to identify conservation priority areas for otter protection. Using the anthropogenic pressures layer, we also evaluated anthropogenic stressors in each province. Then, we analyzed the conservation status of the otter based on the spatial distribution of national nature reserves. Furthermore, we used Inner Mongolia Forest Industry Group, Daxing’anling Forestry Group and Yichun Forest Industry Group as case studies to analyze the role of state-owned forest areas for otter conservation.

Results: The results demonstrate that potential distribution and conservation priority areas cover 104,515.04 km2 and 45,448.99 km2, respectively. Large swathes of conservation priority areas remain for the otter in Daxing’anling which are connected with conservation priority areas in Xiaoxing’anling and there is no obvious geographical boundary between them. Therefore, these regions are mandatory to conserve to maintain the stability of otter populations in Northeast China. Otters in the Liaoning Province faced the greatest anthropogenic pressures, followed by the Jilin Province and Heilongjiang Province. Otters in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region faced the lowest amount of pressure. There is potential distribution for the otter in 63 nature reserves and conservation priority areas in 32 nature reserves out of the 110 reserves in the region. The study area includes 11.64% of the otter’s potential distribution and 10.88% of conservation priority areas. Three state-owned forest industry groups cover 71.18% of the potential distribution of the otter (74,390.89 km2) and 79.26% of the conservation priority areas (36,022.22 km2).

Conclusions: This study indicates that state-owned forest areas may play a greater role in the protection of biodiversity following a comprehensive ban on logging in natural forests. Therefore, we propose that areas with important conservation value in state-owned forest land should be gradually included under the protections of national parks in order to achieve systematic and complete protection of biodiversity. Finally, we suggest: (1) strengthening the management of river pollutions; (2) reducing fishing intensity; (3) a long-term field monitoring network be established to study population changes in otters; (4) increasing the investment in scientific research on otters; and (5) raising awareness of otter conservation through public education.

Key words: Eurasian otter, ensemble models, distribution, conservation priority areas, state-owned forest areas