AboutZoos, Since 2008


Puma track­ing in Santa Cruz Moun­tains reveals impact of habi­tat fragmentation

pub­lished 21 April 2013 | mod­i­fied 05 April 2014

Puma-7fIn the first pub­lished results of more than three years of track­ing pumas (or moun­tain lions) in the Santa Cruz Moun­tains, researchers of Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Santa Cruz (UCSC) doc­u­ment how human devel­op­ment affects the preda­tors’ habits.

In their find­ings pub­lished on 17 April in the open access jour­nal PLOS ONE
, UCSC asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of envi­ron­men­tal stud­ies Chris Wilmers and col­leagues with the UC Santa Cruz Puma Project describe track­ing 20 pumas (Puma con­color) over 17,000 square kilo­me­tres for three years. Researchers are try­ing to under­stand how habi­tat frag­men­ta­tion influ­ences the phys­i­ol­ogy, behav­iour, ecol­ogy, and con­ser­va­tion of pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Depend­ing on their behav­iour, ani­mals respond very dif­fer­ently to human devel­op­ment. [Pumas are] totally will­ing to brave rural neigh­bour­hoods, but when it comes to repro­duc­tive behav­iour and den­ning they need more seclusion
Chris Wilmers, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of envi­ron­men­tal stud­ies, UCSC »

The large preda­tors liv­ing rel­a­tively close to a met­ro­pol­i­tan area require a buffer from human devel­op­ment at least four times larger for repro­duc­tive behav­iours than for other activ­i­ties such as mov­ing and feed­ing.

“In addi­tion, pumas give a wider berth to types of human devel­op­ment that pro­vide a more con­sis­tent source of human inter­face,” such as neigh­bour­hoods, than they do in places where human pres­ence is more inter­mit­tent, as with major roads or high­ways, the authors write.

37 pumas cap­tured
Wilmers and his team, which includes grad­u­ate stu­dents, and a dog track­ing team work­ing with the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife, have cap­tured 37 pumas to date. Twenty-​12 females and eight males-​were closely fol­lowed between 2008 and 2011. Once cap­tured and anaes­thetised, the pumas’ sex was deter­mined, they were weighed, mea­sured, fit with an ear tag and a col­lar with a GPS trans­mit­ter. The col­lars, devel­oped, in part, by an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary team at UCSC, includ­ing wildlife biol­o­gists and engi­neers, trans­mit loca­tion data every four hours.

Researchers are able to track the pumas’ move­ments and cal­cu­late loca­tions of feed­ing sites, com­mu­ni­ca­tion spots, and dens. Pumas com­mu­ni­cate with scent mark­ings known as “scrapes” where they scrape leaves or duff into a pile then uri­nate on it. Males typ­i­cally make the scrapes, adver­tis­ing their pres­ence and avail­abil­ity. Females visit scrapes when look­ing for mates.

Video belows shows lion 16M scrap­ing:

The Puma Project team set up and mon­i­tored remote cam­eras at 44 scrape loca­tions and doc­u­mented males and females, which con­firmed GPS data from the pumas’ col­lars. Researchers also found 10 den sites belong­ing to 10 dif­fer­ent female lions. They vis­ited 224GPS clus­ters” where activ­i­ties sug­gested a feed­ing site, and located prey remains at 115 sites.

Wilmers said the research is help­ing iden­tify cor­ri­dors where pumas typ­i­cally travel between areas of high-​quality habi­tat. This includes neigh­bour­hoods where females often are will­ing to explore for food for their fast-​growing brood.

Brushes with humans
Brushes with humans have resulted in casu­al­ties when pumas were struck by cars or caught raid­ing live­stock. One male known as 16M was shown to have crossed busy High­way 17 between Scotts Val­ley and Los Gatos 31 times. He was hit and badly injured in Novem­ber 2010 and recently shot and killed after attack­ing goats. A female, 18F, who may have been 16M’s mate, was killed in 2011 cross­ing the wind­ing high­way.

Eight of the 11 pumas that died dur­ing the study were killed when caught attack­ing domes­tic live­stock. Wilmers advised own­ers of goats or other live­stock to con­sider keep­ing them in a “fully-​enclosed puma-​proof structure.”

While Wilmers advised peo­ple to pro­ceed with cau­tion in any known puma roam­ing grounds he said humans need not panic about the pres­ence of pumas.

map SantaCruz mountainsThe study’s con­ser­va­tion goals are meant to help pumas sur­vive in the midst of rapidly grow­ing human devel­op­ment by build­ing aware­ness of pumas’ behav­iour and pro­vid­ing safe tran­sit oppor­tu­ni­ties under or over major highways.

(Source: UCSC press release, 17.04.2013)

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