Monday, 22 April 2013

Study of Pumas in Santa Cruz Mountains Documents Impact of Predator/Human Interaction

Apr. 17, 2013 — In the first published results of more than three years of tracking mountain lions in the Santa Cruz Mountains, UC Santa Cruz researchers document how human development affects the predators' habits.

In findings published today (April 17) in the online journal PLOS ONE, UCSC associate professor of environmental studies Chris Wilmers and colleagues with the UC Santa Cruz Puma Project describe tracking 20 lions over 6,600 square miles for three years. Researchers are trying to understand how habitat fragmentation influences the physiology, behavior, ecology, and conservation of pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

"Depending on their behavior, animals respond very differently to human development," Wilmers said. Lions are "totally willing to brave rural neighborhoods, but when it comes to reproductive behavior and denning they need more seclusion."

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

7F, an approximately 7-year-old mother is treed by trailing
 hounds so researchers can replace her collar before the batteries 
fail. 7F lives in the mountains above Los Gatos
and has had three litters of kittens in the four years since
 she was first collared. (Credit: Photo by Paul Houghtaling)
"In addition, pumas give a wider berth to types of human development that provide a more consistent source of human interface," such as neighborhoods, than they do in places where human presence is more intermittent, as with major roads or highways, the authors write.

37 lions 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 lions to date. Twenty-12 females and eight males-were closely followed between 2008 and 2011. Once captured and anesthetized, the lions' 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.

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