Analysis of kill site parameters to better understand hunting behaviors of mountain lions (Puma concolor)
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The understanding of activity patterns and hunting behaviors can provide insight into life history and predator-prey dynamics. The mountain lion, Puma concolor, occupies the largest geographical range of any terrestrial mammal in the western hemisphere. Mountain lions live in a variety of habitats including mixed forests, high elevation plateaus, shrub communities, open steppe, valley bottoms with steep slopes, and riparian habitats. Previous research has shown their activity patterns occur primarily during the nocturnal and crepuscular periods. The primary prey of mountain lions are mule deer and elk, but they also rely on smaller prey such as American beaver and North American porcupine among others. I investigated characteristics of mountain lion kills in response to diel cycle and lunar illumination. Data were collected between 4 March 2011 to 27 April 2015 on a total of 1,234 predation events from 24 different mountain lions fitted with Global Positioning System (GPS) collars in Colorado and Wyoming. My three objectives were: to provide descriptive characteristics on mountain lion kill sites, evaluate selectivity of kills made across the diel cycle and over varying degrees of lunar illumination, and to assess whether there are seasonal differences in the proportion of kills made across the diel cycle, and across the lunar illumination categories. I constructed 95% Bonferroni adjusted confidence intervals and Manly’s alpha selectivity index scores to assess selectivity or avoidance of specific categories. I used R to run chi- square tests and found that there was a significant difference between lunar illumination categories and during the summer season. The greatest proportion of kills occurred during periods with greatest lunar illumination (>90 %). There was a significant difference in prey selection at the lowest level (<10%) of lunar illumination when compared to the total percent prey composition. Diel cycle also had significant effects on mountain lion kills. Understanding mountain lion hunting behaviors will aid in management of this predator as well as management of its prey populations. In an era of technological advances and urban growth and development, these management practices will allow us the knowledge and tools to successfully cohabitate with this iconic species.