By Bary Alyssa Johnson (staff@latinospost.com) | First Posted: Jul 21, 2013 10:59 PM EDT

Photo: Wikimedia Commons (Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

The Iberian lynx has seen severe population decline over the past hundred or so years and now the species faces extinction as a very real future possibility.

This species of lynx, which now numbers only 250 in the wild, has been decimated in southern Europe over the past decades. This is due largely in part to overhunting by humans of its main prey - the European rabbit. Also to blame are poachers and fragmentation of the species habitat in two regions of southern Spain, according to a report from Rappler.com.

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Researchers in Europe maintain that climate change could push this species of lynx to extinction within 50 years, despite ongoing conservation efforts. A study published on Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change says that the impact of climate change must be introduced into strategies for saving the lynx if this species is to be spared.

"We show that climate change could lead to a rapid and severe decrease in lynx abundance in coming decades and probably lead to its extinction in the wild," said lead author of the study Dr. Damien Fordham of the University of Adelaide's Environment Institute. "Current management efforts could be futile if they don't take into account the combined effects of climate change, land use and prey abundance on population dynamics of the Iberian lynx."

Only two Iberian lynx populations continue to exist in the wild, compared to nine in the 1990s. These populations reside in two regions of southern Spain: the Sierra Morena and the Donana National Park. Since the mid 1990s almost €100 million has been spent in attempts to save the species through habitat management, curbing of poaching and other negative human effects and reintroduction of the lynx into more suitable areas, where they have been known to exist in recent history.

The research shows that although the Iberian lynx seems to have responded favorably to these severe species management tactics over the past several years, the majority of ongoing efforts into conserving this animal could extend their survival but just a few decades.

"That the numbers of Iberian lynx are currently increasing suggests that intensive management of habitat and rabbit population have worked as effective short-term conservation strategies, but small population size means the species is still threatened and susceptible to future population declines," said Professor Barry Brook, Chair of Climate Science at the University of Adelaide. "This means that the species is extremely vulnerable to shifts in habitat quality, or to changes in the abundance of their rabbit prey due to climate change."

The researchers who published today's study boast that it is the most comprehensive conservation-management modern yet developed of the effects of climate change on a predator and its prey. They say that climate-change-informed decisions should be a common part of all future conservation practices.

"Our results demonstrate, for the first time, why considering prey availability, climate change and their interaction in models is important when designing policies to prevent future biodiversity loss," the study reads.

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