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Cryptic Neighbors: Connecting Movement Ecology and Population Dynamics for a Large Carnivore in a Human-Dominated Landscape

  • Author(s): Nisi, Anna C
  • Advisor(s): Wilmers, Christopher C
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

Understanding how habitat impacts population dynamics is essential for wildlife conservation, especially in heterogeneous, human-dominated landscapes. In these areas, animals may alter their movement behavior to manage the risks and costs of living in fragmented areas, which may help wildlife coexist alongside people. These interrelated concepts – how habitat quality and animal space use influence individual fitness and population dynamics, and whether animal behavior may mediate these relationships – are of particular conservation importance for large carnivores, as conservation in human-dominated landscapes is essential for the continued persistence of many carnivore species. In my dissertation, I quantify the links between movement ecology, behavior, and population dynamics for pumas (Puma concolor) in the fragmented Santa Cruz Mountains of California. I explore the behavioral strategies employed by large carnivores in response to humans (Chapter 1) and investigate whether these strategies help them avoid the risk of being killed by people (Chapter 2). I also quantify how living in more developed areas influences puma survival and how that scales up to impact population dynamics and viability (Chapter 3). Finally, taking a broader view, I investigate the intersections between several environmental impacts driven by low-density exurban development, including wildlife habitat quality, household carbon emissions, and wildfire risk and vulnerability (Chapter 4). This work illustrates that while carnivores exhibit complex behavioral strategies in human-dominated landscapes, their behavioral flexibility alone is insufficient for human-carnivore coexistence. Rather, land use strategies that minimize further development of wildland areas are necessary to support viable carnivore populations, and would confer multiple environmental benefits to people as well as wildlife.

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