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Resource selection by cougars: Influence of behavioral state and season

Research paper by Linsey W. Blake, Eric M. Gese

Indexed on: 13 Jul '16Published on: 12 Jul '16Published in: The Journal of Wildlife Management



Abstract

An understanding of how a predator uses the landscape can assist in developing management plans. We modeled resource selection by cougars (Puma concolor) during 2 behavioral states (moving and killing) and 2 seasons (summer and winter) with respect to landscape characteristics using locations from global positioning system (GPS)‐collared cougars in the Pryor Mountains, Montana and Wyoming, USA. Furthermore, we examined predation‐specific resource selection at 2 scales (fine and coarse). When possible, we backtracked from cache sites to kill sites and used a fine‐scale analysis to examine landscape characteristics of confirmed kills. At this fine scale, kill sites had less horizontal visibility, were more likely to be in juniper (Juniperus spp.)‐mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius), and were less likely to be in grassland vegetation. For the coarse‐scale analysis of predation risk, we used the entire dataset of kills by buffering each cache site by 94.9 m, which was the 95% upper cut‐off point of the known distances dragged from kill sites to cache sites, thereby creating buffered cache sites that had a high probability of containing the kill site. We modeled seasonal cougar predation site selection by constructing resource selection functions for these buffered cache sites. The top model for summer predation risk consisted of vegetation class, distance to water, and slope. The top model for winter predation risk included vegetation class and elevation. These predation risk models were similar to but simpler than the resource selection models developed from the moving locations. Essentially, the behavioral state (i.e., killing vs. moving) of the cougar had little influence on resource selection, indicating that cougars are generally in hunting mode while moving through their landscape. To potentially reduce cougar predation on mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) in our study area, managers can intersect the cougar predation‐risk resource selection functions with deer and sheep habitat to guide habitat modification efforts aimed at increasing horizontal visibility in risky vegetation classes. © 2016 The Wildlife Society.