Kimberly A. Craighead, Ph.D., is a 2019 graduate of the Doctoral Program in Environmental Studies at Antioch University, New England.

Dissertation Committee:

  • Beth A. Kaplan, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Peter A. Palmiotto, D.F., Committee Member
  • Marcella J. Kelly, Ph.D., Committee Member


jaguar, puma, habitat selection, distribution, habitat suitability, Random Forests, multi-scale optimization, climate change, Guna Yala, Panama

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Over the past two centuries, large terrestrial carnivores have suffered extreme population declines and range contractions resulting from the synergistic anthropogenic threats of land-use change and indirect effects of climate change. In Panama, rapid land use conversion coupled with climate change is predicted to negatively impact jaguar (Panthera onca) and puma (Puma concolor). This dissertation examined the environmental variables and scales influencing jaguar and puma habitat selection by season (annual, wet, and dry), using multi-scale optimized habitat suitability models and a machine-learning algorithm (Random Forests), in the narrowest section of Panama. The models derived from the data of an intensive camera trapping effort (2016–2018) captured a wide spectrum of ecological relationships for the sympatric felid species. Jaguar habitat selection was limited by secondary forest at a broad scale (home range), suggesting that jaguars preferred primary forest. Therefore, the persistence of primary forest in the narrowest section of the country is key for the long-term survival of the species. Pumas incorporated primary forest at a fine scale (patch) and agropecuary (agriculture and livestock) at broad scales (home range), providing evidence of the plasticity and adaptability of the species to a diverse range of landscapes. Seasonal differences in habitat suitability were evident for both species which is most likely related to prey availability. The models also provided a set of seasonal habitat suitability maps (annual, wet season and dry season) from which spatial information on jaguar and puma distribution are presented. This study improves our understanding of species-environment relationships and habitat selection of jaguars and pumas in eastern Panama, and contributes to the growing number of studies that demonstrate the strong conceptual and inferential advantages of a multi-scale approach. Further, I examined the implications of the potential relocation of the Guna Yala Indigenous communities from the San Blas Archipelago, Panama, to a critical forest region on the mainland. My review highlights the interconnectedness of climate change, Indigenous people’s migration in response to climate change, and the implications for jaguar conservation in the region.