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Use of the MaxEnt model to predict changes in sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) habitats in the Gandaki River Basin, Nepal


The Gandaki River Basin (GRB), located in the central Himalaya, provides habitats for a large number of important flora and fauna species. The habitats of key protected species have changed over time as a result of climate changes and human activities related to land use change, including the development of roads. This study assessed the present and future distributions of sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) habitats using the maximum entropy (MaxEnt) model. Bioclimatic data, a digital elevation model and roads were used as environmental layers to assess current and future distributions of habitat. Results show that the overall habitat within the study area is likely to undergo important changes in the future. Bio 8 (the mean temperature of the wettest quarter) and slope were found to be important variables affecting the distribution of the species. The habitats very highly suitable for sloth bears currently cover an area of 148 km2 within the GRB. These habitats are predicted to increase by 122 km2 more by 2050. Overall, a net change by 680.38 km2 was found in the GRB. Conservation measures are necessary for this key protected species and its habitat within the GRB and elsewhere in Nepal.