Prospects for population expansion of the exotic aoudad (Ammotragus lervia; Bovidae) in the Iberian Peninsula: clues from habitat suitability modelling

We studied the geographical distribution and habitat suitability of an introduced ungulate, the aoudad ( Ammotragus lervia ), that is currently expanding its range in south-eastern Iberian Peninsula. We assessed the niche of the species using Ecological Niche Factor Analysis (ENFA) on (1) environmental variables (climate and habitat type), and (2) potential aoudad landscape avoidance and human disturbance variables. We compared both niche descriptions to study the impact of human interference on niche selection of the species. ENFA models were calibrated using data on the population expanded from the original release location, in Sierra Espuña mountains, and validated using data from another free-ranging population, originated independently in the Alicante province. The habitat suitability model for the purely environmental niche predicts a potential distribution along a SW–NE axis in the study area, following the Cordillera Sub-Bética mountain range, being constrained by low winter precipitation, high altitude, high terrain slope, and the presence of forest. In addition to these ecological traits, roads and landscape use restricted the environmental range potentially available for the species. Since the aoudad is a potential competitor of native ungulates and a threat to endemic flora, prospects for its potential dispersion might be of great conservation value.