Abstract

The umbrella species concept posits that protection of a single, wide-ranging species may confer protection to a large number of sympatric species. Due to their large home ranges, widespread distribution in the Mesoamerican Biodiversity Hotspot (MBH), and status as the focal species of numerous conservation initiatives, the jaguar Panthera onca is an ideal species to evaluate the umbrella strategy. After ground-truthing jaguar corridors from 2009 - 2016, we tested the umbrella value of jaguars for endemic herpetofauna (Amphibia, Reptilia) in Nuclear Central America (NCA), a ~ 370 000 km² sub-region of the MBH. NCA contains the greatest density of threatened reptiles in the Western Hemisphere and harbors extraordinary high diversity of amphibians, the most threatened class of vertebrate worldwide. Of the 304 regional endemics in NCA, the distributions of 187 (61.5 %) species of amphibians and reptiles overlapped ground-truthed jaguar range. The distributions of 14 reptiles, including a critically endangered Bothriechis spp. and two endangered Norops spp., occur exclusively within jaguar distribution. Similarly, the distributions of 19 amphibians, including four critically endangered Craugastor spp. and two critically endangered Plectrohyla spp. occur entirely within jaguar distribution. Our results indicate greater effectiveness of ground-truthed jaguar distribution than modeled and randomly selected networks in overlapping the distributions of endemic herpetofauna, especially threatened amphibians, in NCA. Substantiation of multi-taxa dependence on habitat in jaguar distribution would strengthen justification for wider application of the umbrella strategy beyond NCA and aid conservation planning in the MBH.