Mosaics of Exotic Forest Plantations and Native Forests as Habitat of Pumas
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There is a general lack of information on the impact of forest plantations and the presence of urban settlements on populations of resource-demanding species such as large felids. To partially address this problem, a project study was conducted to find out whether mosaics of forest plantations and native vegetation can function as an adequate habitat for pumas (Puma concolor) in southern Brazil. The study was conducted within a 1255-km2 area, managed for planted stands of Pinus spp. and Eucalyptus spp. Individual identification of pumas was carried out using a combination of track-matching analysis (discriminant analysis) and camera-trapping. Both techniques recorded closely similar numbers of individual pumas, either total (9–10 individuals) or resident (5–6 individuals). A new approach, developed during this study, was used to individualize pumas by their markings around the muzzle. The estimated density varied from 6.2 to 6.9 individuals/100 km2, ranking among the highest across the entire puma range and indicating a potential total population of up to 87 individuals in the study site. In spite of the availability of extensive areas without human disturbance, a radio-tracked female used a core home range that included forest plantations, an urbanized village, and a two-lane paved road with regular vehicular traffic. The high density of pumas and the species’ intensive use of modified landscapes are interpreted here as deriving from conditions rarely found near human settlements: mutual tolerance by pumas and humans and an adequate habitat (regardless of plantations) largely due to the inhibition of invasions and hunting and maintenance of sizable extents of native forest patches. More widely, it suggests the potential of careful management in forestry operations to provide habitat conditions for resource-demanding species such as the puma. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of curbing invasions and hunting, in this case provided by the presence of company employees, for the maintenance of wildlife populations.