Habitat fragmentation is a primary driver of wildlife loss, and establishment of biological corridors is a common strategy to mitigate this problem. A flagship example is the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC), which aims to connect protected forest areas between Mexico and Panama to allow dispersal and gene flow of forest organisms. Because forests across Central America have continued to degrade, the functioning of the MBC has been questioned, but reliable estimates of species occurrence were unavailable. Large mammals are suitable indicators of forest functioning, so we assessed their conservation status across the Isthmus of Panama, the narrowest section of the MBC. We used large-scale camera-trap surveys and hierarchical multispecies occupancy models in a Bayesian framework to estimate the occupancy of 9 medium to large mammals and developed an occupancy-weighted connectivity metric to evaluate species-specific functional connectivity. White-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), jaguar (Panthera onca), giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), and tapir (Tapirus bairdii) had low expected occupancy along the MBC in Panama. Puma (Puma concolor), red brocket deer (Mazama temama), ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), and collared peccary (Pecari tajacu), which are more adaptable, had higher occupancy, even in areas with low forest cover near infrastructure. However, the majority of species were subject to ≥1 gap that was larger than their known dispersal distances, suggesting poor connectivity along the MBC in Panama. Based on our results, forests in Darien, Donoso–Santa Fe, and La Amistad International Park are critical for survival of large terrestrial mammals in Panama and 2 areas need restoration.
- Bayesian statistics
- community-level distribution
- hierarchical occupancy modeling
- landscape connectivity
- Mesoamerican Biological Corridor
- Neotropical forest