Tag: habitat fragmentation

Pumas feel the fear near humans

Justine’s recent paper in the Proceedings of Royal Society B received quite a bit of attention from the press.  Reports about it appeared in Science, Nature, BBC and the Naked Scientists among others.  Here’s snippet from Nature

Female pumas that live near human populations hunt more often but spend less time eating their prey than do those in less populated areas.

Humans can cause declines in wildlife populations, but their effect on animal behaviour is less well understood. Justine Smith and her colleagues at the University of California, Santa Cruz, tagged 30 pumas (Puma concolor) in California and tracked their movements in areas with four different densities of human housing. They found that at kill sites near the most densely populated areas, female pumas spent 42% less time consuming their prey than those in the least populated regions. To compensate, the females in the more developed habitats killed 36% more deer.

Fear of humans is probably driving this behavioural change, which could have further ecosystem effects, such as boosting scavenger populations and even compromising the reproductive health of female pumas, the authors speculate.

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Road Kill or Road Crossing: California Slow to Protect Wildlife

An NPR Quest radio piece about road crossings affecting our study animals. Listen below.

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Science on the SPOT: Chasing Pumas

Great NPR video documentary on our mountain lion – habitat fragmentation study

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Cal Academy of Sciences – Local Lions

Apparently this video is playing on the big screen in the Cal Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

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Top Cats: How Pumas and Other Apex Predators’ Populations Affect The Big Biodiversity Picture

Here’s a great article by Liza Gross in KQED’s Quest.  It ties our recent puma work nicely together with other work on predator effects on ecosystem function.

These “top down” trophic cascades, which the ecologists dubbed “trophic downgrading,” have been documented from the poles to the equators and every major biome in between, making the loss of top predators, they wrote, “arguably humankind’s most pervasive influence on the natural world.” Earth has weathered five mass extinctions but never before at the hands of one species—human beings. And we humans seem hell bent on clearing the Earth of larger bodied apex predators.

I considered all this as I read a new paper from wildlife ecologist Chris Wilmer’s lab (published last week in PLOS ONE) that looks at how human development affects pumas. Like most large carnivores, pumas need vast territories to hunt, find mates and raise young. Pumas living in the San Francisco Bay Area have no such luck. Wilmers, an associate professor of environmental studies at the University of California-Santa Cruz, has been studying the effects of habitat fragmentation on the behavior, ecology and even the physiology of pumas around the Santa Cruz Mountains. He develops cutting-edge GPS collars to track both the location and behavior of his animals.

Fragmented landscapes often pave the way to extinction for wide-ranging large carnivores like pumas, with cascading effects. Freed from the threat of top predators, smaller carnivores like foxes increase in number, driving declines in birds and small mammals. But habitat fragmentation can produce effects similar to extinction because large predators tend to avoid small fragmented parcels. Given the heterogeneous patterns of human developments—with houses and other structures interspersed among natural areas—predicting how animals might respond, and with what consequences, presents a serious challenge.

Read the full article here.

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Cougars in the mood stay far from humans

From the San Francisco Chronicle, a nice article on our recent PLOS ONE publication.

 Mountain lions, the most fearsome predators in California, lurk closer to suburbia when they are stalking prey or searching out new territory, but the cagey cats steer clear of humans when they are in the mood for romance, according to a UC Santa Cruz study.

If you can’t view the full article on the Chronicle article, here is a pdf version (page 1 , page 2).

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Mountain lion just miles from downtown San Jose photographed by automatic camera

Sometimes I am amazed at how easily mountain lions make it into the news!  Here’s a story in the San Jose Merc about a lion caught on camera at UC’s Blue Oak Reserve in the Hamilton range…

The lion photographed weighs more than 100 pounds. Wilmers said it is a male from 4- to 10-years-old, and it looks healthy. That it wandered into photo range on the outskirts of America’s 10th largest city was bound to happen sooner or later, he said.

“It’s not a surprise to me. There is a lot of great open space there,” Wilmers said. “If anything, it is a testament to the fact that people have been able to protect large open spaces that animals like mountain lions need to be healthy.”

View the full article here.

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The ghost cat: Mountain lion slips across Highway 17 regularly

From the Santa Cruz Sentinel/San Jose Mercury News, a nice article on 16m’s penchant for crossing roads.  Not sure where they got the name Atlas from, but so it goes.  By the way, that large scare he has in the photo above on his rump – we think he got hit and dragged by a car on hwy 17, but he survived and is doing well now.

But what sets this mountain lion apart is the expanse of his territory. Atlas, at he is sometimes known, roams the mountains on either side of Highway 17, crossing the busy road regularly to reinforce his domain. He is distinguishing himself not only by the risks he assumes, but by surviving them.

“What he’s basically done is set up a home range that has Highway 17 as a line right down the middle of it,” said Chris Wilmers, who heads UCSC’s Santa Cruz Puma Project, which has tagged and tracked nearly 40 lions throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Read the full Sentinel article here.

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Luring mountain lions to learn to live amongst them

From Crosscurrents on NPR, I love this radio piece about our puma project.  Pay close attention to my toothbrush quote!

Although they live all around us, encounters with lions are unusual because there just aren’t a lot of them and each lion has a large territory. In the Bay Area, males use about 200 square miles and females about 50. People are increasingly hiking and biking in mountain lion country, yet attacks remain exceedingly rare – although media hype may make it seem otherwise.

WILMERS: With over 30 million people in California and thousands of lions, there’s only been six lethal attacks in the entire history of the state. So basically that means there’s a very, very, very small probability of ever getting attacked, and if you do, of dying. You’re much more likely to die from getting struck by lightning or from impaling yourself on your toothbrush than you are from a mountain lion.

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Tracking Urban Lions

From NPR, an excellent radio spot about our puma project.  The online version has a bonus video to accompany it.

 

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