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Cougars likely to recol­o­nize mid­dle part of U.S. within the next 25 years

pub­lished 07 Novem­ber 2015 | mod­i­fied 07 Novem­ber 2015

Puma - cougar - mounatin lionA ground-​breaking new study shows that cougars, also known as moun­tain lions and pumas, are likely to recol­o­nize por­tions of habi­tat in the mid­dle part of the United States within the next 25 years. It is the first study to show the poten­tial “when and where” of the re-​population of this con­tro­ver­sial large predator.

The study, led by researchers at the Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota and South­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­sity Car­bon­dale, will be pub­lished soon in the inter­na­tional jour­nal Eco­log­i­cal Mod­el­ling.

This is the first, large-​scale pop­u­la­tion via­bil­ity study on cougars. The research exam­ined more than 40 years worth of data on demo­graph­ics and geo­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion on more than 3 mil­lion square kilo­me­tres to deter­mine pos­si­ble areas of pop­u­la­tion estab­lish­ment. The researchers specif­i­cally looked at the female dis­per­sal since pop­u­la­tion set­tle­ment is depen­dent upon the arrival of females in a given area.

These are pre­dic­tive mod­els, but we feel that our study could be an impor­tant tool for con­ser­va­tion of this species and edu­ca­tion about a large car­ni­vore that can some­times incite fear
Michelle LaRue, author, research asso­ciate in the Col­lege of Sci­ence and Engineering’s Depart­ment of Earth Sci­ences, Uni­ver­sity of Minnesota »

We didn’t just look at where they are now, but where they could go,” said LaRue. Breed­ing pop­u­la­tions of cougars are already liv­ing in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and researchers noted four breed­ing pop­u­la­tions in North Dakota and Nebraska. The new study shows that cougars could be expected in the next two decades in Arkansas, Mis­souri and Nebraska with the poten­tial to sus­tain exist­ing pop­u­la­tions in the Dako­tas and Nebraska.

Cougar distribution midwest USCougar potential habitat midwest US

Cougar his­tory
His­tor­i­cally, cougars (Puma con­color) were once one of the most widely dis­trib­uted land mam­mals on earth, rang­ing from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans and from north­ern British Colum­bia to south­ern Chile. In the United States, the cougars were pushed back to the Amer­i­can West with the arrival of Euro­pean set­tlers. Although they have been extir­pated for more than 100 years, cougars have been reported in the mid­dle part of the U.S. over the past two decades with more than 800 instances of con­firmed cougar pres­ence from 19902015.

The rea­son cougars used to exist across the coun­try and now they don’t is because of peo­ple,” said study co-​author Clay­ton K. Nielsen from South­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­sity Carbondale’s Coop­er­a­tive Wildlife Research Lab­o­ra­tory and Depart­ment of Forestry. “Now that this large car­ni­vore is expected to come back into new areas, we need have a clear plan for edu­ca­tion and conservation.”

Footage of a moun­tain lion in Nebraska in 2001:

(Source: Nebraska Game and Parks Com­mis­sion YouTube chan­nel)

The next step is to exam­ine human accep­tance and atti­tudes toward the re-​population of cougars, said LaRue, who is also the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Cougar Net­work, a non-​profit research organization.

We now have the infor­ma­tion nec­es­sary for gov­ern­ment agen­cies to plan for ecosystem-​based man­age­ment and soci­etal atti­tudes toward the recol­o­niza­tion of this preda­tor,” LaRue said. “Given that cougars are expected to inhabit areas where they haven’t been for more than 100 years, this will pose con­sid­er­able chal­lenges for wildlife man­agers and the gen­eral pub­lic in the future.”

This research was funded pri­mar­ily by the Sum­mer­lee Foun­da­tion, a pri­vate non-​profit char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion sup­port­ing ani­mal protection.

(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota news release, 05.11.2015)

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