Lynx pardinusSpanish lynx

Last updated:

Geographic Range

Iberian lynx are one of two carnivore species endemic to Europe (the other being European mink, Mustela lutreola). Their historical range is restricted to the Iberian Peninsula, primarily the southwestern region of Spain and much of Portugal. Although they were once widespread throughout the region, their geographic range has contracted at an alarming rate over the last century and a half. A century ago, the species was still present in northern Iberia and maintained relatively high densities in the south. Within fifty years, they had become nearly extinct in the north and were rapidly declining in the south. The most significant period of decline was between 1960 and 1990, during which their range contracted by nearly 80%. Currently, they occupy about 2% of their original range. (Delibes, et al., 2000; Deliebs, 2009; Ferreras, et al., 2004; Pedro Sarmento, et al., 2008)

In 1988, a survey estimated that there were about 880 to 1150 adult Iberian lynx living in nine populations across a very fragmented range. A more recent survey, published in 2008, shows that lynx numbers are much lower than previously estimated. The presence of Iberian lynx could only be confirmed in the southwestern quarter of the Iberian Peninsula, and population estimates suggest that there are between 475 and 680 adults living in five different populations throughout the region. Currently, the largest concentration of lynx live in Donana National Park (1500 km^2), where they are heavily protected. Though Iberian lynx were once common in Portugal, they are now thought to be completely extirpated from the country. Their presence in Portugal has not been confirmed since January, 1992. (Delibes, et al., 2000; Deliebs, 2009; Ferreras, et al., 2004; Pedro Sarmento, et al., 2008)

Habitat

Iberian lynx require variable terrain below 1300 m, containing a mosaic of closed Mediterranean scrubland interspersed with open patches of grassland, often with marsh ecotones. This natural mosaic landscape creates the optimal balance of shrub cover and open space. Lynx use areas of scrubland as shelter as well as for bedding and breeding. Areas with minimal cover provide habitat for their primary prey, European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), which occur in higher densities in these locations. Unfortunately, Iberian lynx have disappeared from many areas containing suitable habitat, presumably due to low rabbit densities. (Delibes, et al., 2000; Ferreras, et al., 2004; Pedro Sarmento, et al., 2008)

Iberian lynx habitat in Donana National Park is relatively flat (0 to 50 m above sea level) and has a Mediterranean sub-humid climate. This particular ecoregion is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and has marked seasonality. (Delibes, et al., 2000; Ferreras, et al., 2004; Pedro Sarmento, et al., 2008)

Like most felids, Iberian lynx are solitary animals that exhibit a metapopulation demographic structure. They depend on dispersal between populations to avoid inbreeding and thus, require movement corridors between areas of suitable habitat. Corridors allow individuals to search for habitats outside of their of natal territory. (Delibes, et al., 2000; Ferreras, et al., 2004; Pedro Sarmento, et al., 2008)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 1300 m
    0.00 to 4265.09 ft

Physical Description

Iberian lynx are similar in appearance to their close relative, Eurasian lynx, but are about half the size. They are similar in size to Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) and Bobcat (Lynx rufus), and males are larger than females. They have relatively small heads, long legs, and very short, black-tipped tails, which is a common characteristic of Lynx species. They have short, flat faces, and black tufts on the ears and jowls that give them a bearded appearance, which is especially evident in adults. They have tawny pelage, which is mottled with dark spots that vary greatly in size, shape, and color intensity. Recent efforts have been made to characterize the configuration, size, and intensity of these spots, which may prove useful in determining the degree of genetic diversity within the species. (Beltrán and Delibes, 1993; Cope, 1879; Delibes, et al., 2000; Meachen-Samuels and Van Valkenburgh, 2009)

As small prey specialists, Iberian lynx have a foreshortened skull that maximizes the bite force of the canines. In addition, they have more narrow muzzles, longer jaws, and smaller canines than felines that specialize on larger prey. These adaptations provide an advantage when catching small, fast prey and allow Iberian lynx to deliver a single kill bite that punctures the back of the neck, thus severing the spinal cord (as opposed to suffocating bites, common in larger cats). Small-prey felids have smaller canines that result in a smaller contact area. When compared to the large, rounded canines found in large-prey cats, a smaller contact area results in increased bite force per unit contact area. As a result, small-prey cats punctures the skin of prey more easily than their large-prey counterparts. (Beltrán and Delibes, 1993; Cope, 1879; Delibes, et al., 2000; Meachen-Samuels and Van Valkenburgh, 2009)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    11 to 15 kg
    24.23 to 33.04 lb
  • Average mass
    12.8 kg
    28.19 lb
  • Range length
    80 to 130 cm
    31.50 to 51.18 in

Reproduction

Under typical population densities (0.08 adults/km^2), Iberian lynx are polygynous. In the most prey rich habitats of northern Donana National Park, the population density is much higher ( 0.8 adults/km^2). This population is close to its carrying capacity, and the total number of suitable territories is low, thus increasing intrasexual competition. As a result, males are forced to have smaller territories that are more easily defended against rival males. Under these unique circumstances, males focus their efforts on defending exclusive access to a single female, resulting in monogamy. (Fernández, et al., 2003; Ferreras, et al., 2004; Palomares, et al., 2002)

Iberian lynx reach sexual maturity at around 1 year of age, though females only breed once they've secured a territory of their own. Estrus peaks in January, however females may re-enter estrus if gestation is interrupted or they lose a litter prematurely. Females give birth to a maximum of one litter per year, but only breed if their habitat is of sufficient quality. Average reproductive rate for an individual female is 0.8 litters per year. Gestation lasts for 63 to 73 days and most births occur between March and April. Litters range in size from 2 to 4 kittens, with an average of 3. Kittens are semi-altricial at birth, and in most cases only 2 offspring survive weaning, which occurs 10 weeks after birth. Iberian lynx are independent by 7 to 8 months old. (Fernández, et al., 2003; Ferreras, et al., 2004; Palomares, et al., 2002)

Breeding season in Iberian lynx occurs from January to July and is the only time males and females interact. Breeding territories of adult males typically overlap with those of several females. Males defend their territories against rival males and may potentially breed with any female who shares part of his territory. Aggressive interactions over mating rights are rare; however, high-density populations usually experience higher rates of aggressive intrasexual interactions than low-density populations, and may occasionally result in death. (Fernández, et al., 2003; Ferreras, et al., 2004; Palomares, et al., 2002)

  • Breeding interval
    Iberian Lynx breed once per year
  • Breeding season
    January to July
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 4
  • Average number of offspring
    2.5
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    63 to 73 days
  • Average weaning age
    10 weeks
  • Range time to independence
    7 to 8 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Prior to giving birth, female Iberian lynx locate a secluded natural structure which serves as the natal den for her offspring. Often, females establish den sites in large tree hollows; however, rock caves, boulder piles, ground dens, or rabbit warrens that have been expanded by another animal, such as a badger, are also potential den sites. (Fernández, et al., 2003; Ferreras, et al., 2004; Palomares, et al., 2002)

Iberian lynx kittens are born semi-altricial. As a result, they have poor thermoregulatory control and are vulnerable to predation. By giving birth in a small space (e.g., tree hollow), adult females keep their kittens grouped tightly together, which protects from heat loss and predators. Kittens remain in their natal dens for nearly twenty days until they become too large and too mobile for the confined space. Female lynx move their young between a series of auxiliary dens, typically under bushes or in dense scrubland, and occupy each for a decreasing period of time until kittens can accompany their mother on hunts. Frequent den relocation is a common behavioral adaption among felids that decreases ectoparasite loads and reduces predation risk. Den selection is influenced by prey abundance, and females have been known to utilize as many as six auxiliary dens. (Fernández, et al., 2003; Ferreras, et al., 2004; Palomares, et al., 2002)

Iberian lynx kittens nurse until they are 10 weeks old; however, they begin to consume prey captured by their mother after 1 month. During the denning period, mothers spend most of the day in or around the den, resting during the hottest hours and hunting during the cooler dusk period. Like many felids, Iberian lynx kittens begin to show fine motor skills around two months old. Around this same time, they occasionally leave their dens to accompany their mother on outings and begin developing hunting skills. At seven months old, juvenile lynx spend around 60% of their time with their mother and will live independently within their natal territory until reaching reproductive maturity and dispersing. (Fernández, et al., 2003; Ferreras, et al., 2004; Palomares, et al., 2002)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • inherits maternal/paternal territory

Lifespan/Longevity

The oldest wild Iberian lynx was 13 years old at time of death. Longevity of captive individuals is unknown. Mortality rates are highest among dispersing lynx (48% annually), most of which have not reproduced by the time they die. Mortality is often human induced and includes traffic collisions, illegal hunting (5% annually), bycatch in traps (6% annually), dogs, falling into wells, and forest fires. (Delibes, et al., 2000)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    13 (high) years

Behavior

Iberian lynx are solitary carnivores that exhibit metapopulation social structure. They are nocturnal or crepuscular, with activity peaking around sunset, when prey is most active. Daily activity patterns are linked to those of their primary prey, the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). During winter, Iberian lynx may temporarily become diurnal. (Delibes, et al., 2000; Ferreras, et al., 2004)

Adult females and males live in overlapping territories, and both genders defend their territory against conspecifics of the same sex. Iberian lynx frequently kill smaller carnivores to reduce competition for prey and are more aggressive when prey is scarce. Dogs (Canis familiaris), domestic cats (Felis catus), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), common genets (Genetta genetta), Egyptian mongooses (Herpestes ichneumon), and otters (Lutra lutra) commonly fall victim to Iberian lynx. (Delibes, et al., 2000; Ferreras, et al., 2004)

Iberian lnyx live in small, isolated metapopulations. The degree of connectivity between populations depends partly on the number of dispersing individuals. Dispersal mainly occurs during the breeding season, when most social interactions occur. Within the family Felidae, yearling males disperse more frequently than females, but both genders disperse by 2 years old. In dense populations, however, dispersal may occur at an earlier age due to limited resources. Males disperse farther than females, who occasionally inherit their mother's territory or may establish themselves in territories adjacent to their mother’s. Average dispersal distance is 16 km, which is shorter than that reported for other felids of similar size (e.g., Canada lynx and bobcat), but may range between 3 and 30 km. During dispersal, individuals feed in lower quality habitats, while avoiding areas occupied by conspecifics and open habitat types, such as marshes or croplands. If no other options exist, however, they usually travel no more than 2 km at a time in marsh or open habitat. Risks associated with dispersal include aggression from conspecifics, stress, and malnutrition associated with hunting in unfamiliar areas; however, the primary causes of mortality during dispersal are human induced. Nearly half of all dispersal events are successful, resulting in the establishment of breeding territories. (Delibes, et al., 2000; Ferreras, et al., 2004)

  • Range territory size
    4 to 20 km^2

Home Range

Prey density and habitat quality significantly influence Iberian lynx home-range size, which ranges from 4 to 20 km^2. They travel about 7 km per day within their home range, primarily searching for prey. Prey density and home-range size are inversely related (e.g., more prey, smaller home range), and as home-range size increases, territorial boundaries become less stable. For example, in areas of Donana National Park with low rabbit densities, lynx home-range sizes range from 12 to 17 km^2. Where prey is more abundant, home ranges are between 5 and 10 km^2. (Delibes, et al., 2000; Ferreras, et al., 2004)

Communication and Perception

Like all felids, Iberian lynx have vertical pupils and excellent vision, especially during times of low visibility. They have excellent reflexes, their whiskers provide highly detailed haptic data, and their large ears result in excellent hearing. Most solitary cats are silent unless threatened or with young, which emit calls when distressed. (Beltrán and Delibes, 1993; Cope, 1879; Palomares, et al., 2002)

Food Habits

Like most felids, Iberian lynx frequently hunt alone and kill prey with a single bite to the neck. Their small size and well-camouflaged coat make them well adapted for hunting small mammals. Their primary prey is European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), which makes up between 80 and 100% of their daily biomass consumption. A single adult lynx requires between 600 and 1000 kcal per day, which is approximately the amount of energy contained within a single rabbit. An adult female with young requires up to three rabbits per day. Iberian lynx are considered specialist predators, and prey preference exhibits little geographic or seasonal variation. When European rabbits are scarce, alternative prey items consist of small vertebrates including rodents (Rodentia) and European hare (Lepus granatensis). They also consume birds, including red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa), ducks, and geese and are known to occasionally prey on juvenile ungulates such as red deer (Cervus elaphus), fallow deer (Dama dama) and mouflon (Ovis musimon). (Beltrán and Delibes, 1993; Cope, 1879; Fernández, et al., 2003; Ferreras, et al., 2004; Meachen-Samuels and Van Valkenburgh, 2009)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals

Predation

As an apex carvinore, Iberian lynx have no natural predators. (Deliebs, 2009)

Ecosystem Roles

In addition to their dependence on European rabbits as prey, Iberian lynx have very specific habitat requirements. As a result, they may serve as reliable bioindicators of ecosystem health. In addition, moderate population densities of Iberian lynx may have a positive effect on overall prey fitness, as predation may act as a disease control mechanism. Finally, adult lynx often kill competitor species (i.e., small carnivores), resulting in an increase in prey abundance, thereby decreasing the per-capita territory requirements of individual lynx. (Beltrán and Delibes, 1993; Delibes, et al., 2000; Deliebs, 2009; Pedro Sarmento, et al., 2008)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Iberian lynx were once considered pests and were believed to have a significant negative impact on the small game industry. As a result, the Spanish government awarded bounties for their carcasses, and when they were more abundant they were hunted for their fur. However, decreased lynx abundance likely hurt the small game industry by increasing the prevalence of myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease, two diseases that negatively affect European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). (Beltrán and Delibes, 1993; Delibes, et al., 2000; Deliebs, 2009)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Due to the surplus of agricultural goods produced by the European Union, there has been a shift in land management practices. Large portions of potential Iberian lynx habitat, previously deemed unproductive, have been converted to timber stands by reforestation projects or have been set aside for use by the lumber industry. If Iberian lynx recovery efforts require that forestry lands be converted to habitat reserves, the timber industry will likely experience significant economic losses. Iberian lynx pose little threat to agriculture or the small game industry. Attacks against livestock are very rare, and no violent attacks against humans have been recorded. (Delibes, et al., 2000; Deliebs, 2009)

Conservation Status

Iberian lynx are the most endangered felids in the world and the most threatened carnivore in Europe. With fewer than 250 breeding individuals in the wild in 1996, Iberian lynx are considered critically endangered by the IUCN. They have undergone significant population decline and range contraction for the last century and a half, primarily due to anthropogenic causes and disease outbreaks in European rabbits, resulting in significant decreases in their primary prey. Their preservation requires immediate action, and their successful restoration likely requires a coordinated effort by Spanish and Portuguese conservation authorities. To date, captive breeding programs for Iberian lynx have not been thoroughly investigated, but could prove to be a viable method of recovery. (Beltrán and Delibes, 1993; Delibes, et al., 2000; Deliebs, 2009; Pedro Sarmento, et al., 2008)

Habitat fragmentation throughout the Iberian Peninsula has lead to the isolation of lynx populations, thus impeding their ability to disperse. The inability to disperse can lead to an increased risk of inbreeding and reduced genetic diversity, making small populations more vulnerable to extirpation. Causes of habitat fragmentation include agriculture, urban development, road construction, flooding, pollution, and forest fires. Habitat fragmentation exacerbates the challenge of interpopulation dispersal by eliminating habitat corridors. Dispersal plays an important role in the life cycle of Iberian lynx, and although it is inherently high risk, the greatest causes of mortality during dispersal are human induced. In addition to protecting current corridors, restoring interpopulation connectivity is critical to the recovery of Iberian lynx. (Beltrán and Delibes, 1993; Delibes, et al., 2000; Deliebs, 2009; Pedro Sarmento, et al., 2008)

Iberian lynx have long been exploited by humans, and despite being protected in Spain since 1973 and in Portugal since 1974, poaching still occurs. The impacts of poaching are hard to determine, however, because such activities are kept secret. One report estimated that 5% of annual mortality is caused by poaching. In Portugal, the leading cause of human induced mortality is poaching during hunting events. Kill traps, which accounted for 44% of deaths in the 1980’s and 6% in more recent years, are the primary cause of human induced mortality in Spain. (Beltrán and Delibes, 1993; Delibes, et al., 2000; Deliebs, 2009; Pedro Sarmento, et al., 2008)

Contributors

Christopher Johnson (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Stefanie Stainton (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Beltrán, J., M. Delibes. 1993. Physical Characteristics of Iberian Lynxes (Lynx pardinus) from Doñana, Southwestern Spain. Journal of Mammology, Vol. 74 No.4: 852-862. Accessed May 08, 2010 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1382423.

Cope, E. 1879. On the Genera of Felidae and Canidae. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Vol. 31 No. 2: 168-194. Accessed May 08, 2010 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4060308.

Delibes, M., A. Rodriguez, F. Pablo. 2000. Action Plan for the Conservation of the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) in Europe. Nature and Environment, No. 111: 7-42.

Deliebs, M. 2009. The Worlds Most Endangered Felid. Pp. 652 in D Macdonald, ed. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Mammals, Vol. 1, 1 Edition. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Fernández, N., M. Delibes, F. Palomares, D. Mladenoff. 2003. Identifying Breeding Habitat for the Iberian Lynx: Inferences from a Fine-Scale Spatial Analysis. Ecological Applications, Vol. 13 No. 5: 1310-1324. Accessed May 08, 2010 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/4134715.

Ferreras, P., M. Delibes, . Palomares, . Fedriani, J. Calzada, E. Revilla. 2004. Proximate and Ultimate Causes of dispersal in the Iberian Lynx Lynx Pardinus. Behavioral Ecology, Volume 15/ Issue 1: 31-40. Accessed August 05, 2010 at http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org.

Gil-Sanchez, J., E. Ballesteros-Duperon, J. Bueno-Segura. 2006. Feeding ecology of the Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus in east ern Sierra Morena (Southern Spain). Acta Theriologica, Vol. 51 No.1: 85-90.

Meachen-Samuels, J., B. Van Valkenburgh. 2009. Craniodental Indicators of Prey Size Preference in the Felidae. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 96: 784-789.

Palomares, F., M. Delibes, N. Fernandez. 2002. The use of breeding dens and kitten development in the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus). Journal of Zoology, London, No. 258: 1-5.

Pedro Sarmento, , Joana Cruz, Pedro Monterroso, Pedro Tarroso, Catarina Ferreira, Nuno Negrões, Catarina Eira. 2008. Status survey of the critically endangered Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) in Portugal. European Journal of Wildlife Resources, Original Paper: 1-7.