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Survival and Mortality of Pumas (Puma concolor) in a Fragmented, Urbanizing Landscape

  • Author(s): Vickers, T. Winston
  • Sanchez, Jessica N.
  • Johnson, Christine K.
  • Morrison, Scott A.
  • Botta, Randy
  • Smith, Trish
  • Cohen, Brian S.
  • Huber, Patrick
  • Ernest, Holly B.
  • Boyce, Walter M.
  • et al.
Abstract

Wide-ranging large carnivores pose myriad challenges for conservation, especially in highly fragmented landscapes. Over a 13-year period, we combined monitoring of radio collared pumas with complementary multi-generational genetic analyses to inform puma conservation in southern California. Our goals were to generate survivorship estimates, determine causes of mortality, identify barriers to movement, and determine the genetic and demographic challenges to puma persistence among >20,000,000 people and extensive urban, suburban, and exurban development. Despite protection from hunting, annual survival for radio collared pumas was surprisingly low (55.8%), and humans caused the majority of puma deaths. The most common sources of mortality were vehicle collisions (28% of deaths), and mortalities resulting from depredation permits issued after pumas killed domestic animals (17% of deaths). Other human-caused mortalities included illegal shootings, public safety removals, and human-caused wildfire. An interstate highway (I-15) bisecting this study area, and associated development, have created a nearly impermeable barrier to puma movements, resulting in severe genetic restriction and demographic isolation of the small puma population (~17-27 adults) in the Santa Ana Mountains west of I-15. Highways that bisect habitat or divide remaining “conserved” habitat, and associated ongoing development, threaten to further subdivide this already fragmented puma population and increase threats to survival. This study highlights the importance of combining demographic and genetic analyses, and illustrates that in the absence of effective measures to reduce mortality and enhance safe movement across highways, translocation of pumas, such as was done with the endangered Florida panther, may ultimately be necessary to prevent further genetic decline and ensure persistence of the Santa Ana Mountains population.

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