Guardian of the Forest: Do trophic cascade effects of Sunda Clouded Leopards (Neofelis diardi) impact Sabah’s carnivore community and native pheasant species?
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When apex predators disappear from an ecosystem it can have dramatic consequences including the increase in smaller bodied carnivores whose rise can subsequently impact various prey species, this result better known as mesopredator release. Mesopredator release effects on tropical avifauna has rarely been explored especially in the changing landscape of Sabah, Malaysian-Borneo. Sabah has experienced significant land conversion reducing forest integrity and wildlife habitat. We used a piecewise structural equation model to explore how these changes affect the cascading impacts of various Sunda clouded leopard abundances on both mesopredators and the pheasant communities. While Sunda clouded leopards appear to show a positive relationship with loss of forest integrity, data indicate that they have a limiting effect on some mesopredators who in turn have negative effects on pheasant species. This result suggests that apex predators may be more resilient to landscape alteration without it negating their ability to induce mesopredator release.