Date of Award:
Master of Science (MS)
Eric M. Gese
Studies of predator-prey and predator-predator interactions are needed to provide information for decision-making processes in land management agencies. Mountain lions (Puma concolor) are opportunistic carnivores that prey on a wide variety of species. In the Sierra National Forest, CA, they have not been studied since 1987 and their current interactions with their prey and other predators are unknown. Forest managers in this region are concerned with declines of fishers (Pekania pennanti) and studies have shown intraguild predation to be a leading cause of fisher mortality in this area. Managers are interested in learning more about mountain lion predation patterns with regard to prey preference, but also how lions traverse and use the landscape and how anthropogenic activities may be increasing lion predation risk on fishers.
Using GPS radio-collar technology, we examined mountain lion kill rates and prey composition at 250 kill sites. We found mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) to be their main source of prey (81%) with gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) comprising 13.2% of prey composition. We did not detect any fisher predation during our 2-year study; however, during our study, the Kings River Fisher Project experienced extremely low juvenile fisher survival.
To gain a better understanding of seasonal resource selection by mountain lions, we developed resource selection functions (RSF) while they were moving through the landscape and when killing prey. We developed RSF models for all data across the study area, as well as, for a subset of data encompassing an area where LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data had been collected. Within the LiDAR study area, we digitized unmapped roads and skid trails using a Bare Earth data set. We found mountain lion ‘moving’ locations showed selection for close proximity to streams during summer months and selection for ruggedness and steeper slopes during both summer and winter. With 3 of the 4 RSF models at kill sites showing high risk of predation within close proximity to either digitized roads/skid trails or mapped roads, we recommend managers map all anthropogenically created linear landscape features and consider restoring these linear features to pre-treatment landscape conditions following timber harvest.
Nichols, Bradley C., "Foraging Ecology of Mountain Lions in the Sierra National Forest, California" (2017). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 6262.
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