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The Intersection of Carnivores and Humans: Addressing current challenges in carnivore ecology, conservation, and management


Conflict between humans and carnivores, be it competition for space, food (wild prey or livestock), or other resources, has led to carnivore declines across the globe. Conservation goals can no longer be accomplished solely by setting aside protected areas. An expanding human population is increasingly forcing us to create new viable strategies to coexist with wildlife across rapidly changing landscapes. Managing the needs of our growing human population while also maintaining the resources necessary for large carnivore survival will become increasingly important. This will require building new understandings of coupled human-carnivore systems, and developing innovative tools for conflict mitigation. Preventing conflict is critical for minimizing negative impacts to people and predators alike, and an important first step is understanding the interactions between the two.

My research uses a variety of tools to explore the influence of anthropogenic activities on various components of puma (Puma concolor) behavior and ecology in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. In my first chapter, I describe the spatial interaction between anthropogenic activities and habitat for sensitive puma reproductive behaviors. I found that future development will shrink suitable habitat and increase patchiness, making it increasingly difficult for pumas to locate and access suitable nursery and communication areas. My second chapter addresses the spatial interactions between humans, top carnivores, herbivores, and woody plants. This research links a human-initiated trophic cascade to changes in individual plant architecture, changes which have the potential to create a positive feedback loop further amplifying the influence of these altered relationships. My final chapter evaluates the agreement between GPS- and stable isotope-based methods for estimating carnivore diets and integrates puma energetics to predict prey consumption. I found that stable isotope analyses and GPS cluster methods showed similar prey item use on the population-level, but differed significantly on an individual-level.

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