Date of Award:
Master of Science (MS)
Michael L. Wolfe
Cougar (Puma concolor) predation has been identified as being one of several factors contributing to the decline of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) throughout the Western United States. In order to better understand how these elusive felines utilize their surroundings and prey, I examined and analyzed cougar predation behavior in North-Central Utah, using global positioning systems (GPS) data from 2002-2010. Twenty-three cougars were fitted with GPS collars and monitored for prey caching behavior. In total 775 potential cache sites were visited and 546 prey remains found. Mule deer comprised the majority of prey at cougar cache sites, but 11 other species were also found. Collectively, adult female mule deer were killed more than any other demographic class. Proportionally there was no difference in the sex or age class of deer killed by cougars in three different population segments, but seasonal differences were found in the number of kills made between cougar groups. Female cougars with kittens had a higher predation rate than males or solitary females, and seasonally more kills were made in the winter vs. summer. Cougars spent an average of 3.3 days on deer kills, and 6.2 days on elk kills. Habitat analyses suggested that cougars preferentially used Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii) over other land cover types when caching prey, as well as selected unburned over burned areas for caching and foraging on prey. These results suggest that cougars utilize dense stands of vegetation cover when stalking and concealing their prey. Wildlife managers may want to consider the use of prescribed burns in areas of high cougar predation on mule deer. This habitat manipulation tool could simultaneously help mule deer populations by reducing the percent of stalking cover afforded to cougars when attempting to kill prey, along with increasing nutrient levels of newly burned foliage and allow for an increased diversity in forb and shrub species available to mule deer.
Mitchell, Dustin L., "Cougar Predation Behavior in North-Central Utah" (2013). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 1539.
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