Invasive exotic aoudad (Ammotragus lervia) as a major threat to native Iberian ibex ( Capra pyrenaica ): a habitat suitability model approach

The introduction of alien species to new environments is one of the main threats to the conservation of biodiversity. One particularly problematic example is that of wild ungulates which are increasingly being established in regions outside their natural distribution range due to human hunting interests. Unfortunately, we know little of the effects these large herbivores may have on the host ecosystems. This study deals with a first comparative analysis of the habitat requirements of two ungulate species that may be facing competition for resources in the south of Europe: the native Iberian ibex ( Capra pyrenaica ) and the exotic aoudad ( Ammotragus lervia ). The aoudad is a North African caprid introduced in 1970 as a game species in southeastern Spain. It has adapted well, and populations have been freely expanding since then. Ecological Niche Factor Analysis is used to describe the realized niche of both species where their distribution ranges merge. Both species occupy marginal areas of rugged terrain in the region. Marginality is higher for the Iberian ibex, which also presents a higher tolerance of secondary environmental gradients than the aoudad. Highly suitable areas for each species are secondarily suitable for the other. Reclassified and cross-tabulated habitat suitability maps showing the areas of potential spatial coexistence and differences in ecological traits between both species are provided. The results obtained do not allow inferring resource competition between these species. However, current aoudad expansion could result in it invading the favoured habitats of the ibex. Inadequate hunting policy and monitoring, and increasing climatic resemblance of the study region to the native aoudad areas, due to a strong desertification process, are facilitating a high rate of expansion. We strongly recommend to eradicate or, at least, monitor these exotic populations, and promote active conservation practices, if one wants to preserve the unique natural resources present in this European region.