A growing body of evidence has documented how wildlife alter their behavior in response to human encroachment. For carnivores, behaviors related to reproduction and communication are particularly sensitive to human disturbance and can provide an early warning indicator of development’s negative impacts. Despite the important role carnivores play in an ecosystem, few tools have been developed to anticipate how future human development impacts these behaviors. We developed a set of models to understand spatial relationships between anthropogenic development and puma (Puma concolor) habitat selection for two critical reproductive behaviors: nursery habitat for raising young, and sites for communication with mates. Using geospatial location data from the Santa Cruz Mountains in California, USA, we found that female pumas use small nursery home ranges (9 km2 ± 1.72 SE) of predominantly natural habitat, potentially with low levels of human development (< 1 housing unit per 40 acres), when supporting kittens < 8 weeks old. Areas immediately surrounding (≤ 600 m) puma communication sites were also almost entirely composed of undeveloped habitat or low-density development. When modeling projected human development compared to current land use, we found that increases in human development may eliminate 20% of current puma nursery habitat and nearly 50% of current communication site habitat. Future development will also increase the patchiness of suitable habitat, intensifying the difficulty of locating and accessing suitable areas for nurseries and communication. Focusing on the habitat needed to support reproductive and communication behaviors may be an effective way to prioritize conservation planning for pumas and other apex carnivores.
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We thank the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for their support of funding and staff; C. Wylie and D. Tichenor for their support capturing pumas; Y. Wang, P. Houghtaling, J. Smith, Y. Shakeri, and dozens of interns for their time and efforts; (A) Cole and (B) Nickel for their tireless GIS guidance; the many landowners who allowed us access to their property; and the National Science Foundation, Moore Foundation, American Museum of Natural History, and UC Santa Cruz Environmental Studies Department for their generous funding.
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Communicated by Xiaoli Shen.
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Yovovich, V., Allen, M.L., Macaulay, L.T. et al. Using spatial characteristics of apex carnivore communication and reproductive behaviors to predict responses to future human development. Biodivers Conserv 29, 2589–2603 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-020-01990-y
- Anthropogenic development
- Breeding habitat
- Habitat loss
- Habitat selection
- Puma concolor