Effects of hunting on cougar spatial organization

Ecol Evol. 2014 Jun;4(11):2178-85. doi: 10.1002/ece3.1089. Epub 2014 May 5.


The effects of increased mortality on the spatial dynamics of solitary carnivores are not well understood. We examined the spatial ecology of two cougar populations that differed in hunting intensity to test whether increased mortality affected home range size and overlap. The stability hypothesis predicts that home range size and overlap will be similar for both sexes among the two areas. The instability hypothesis predicts that home range size and overlap will be greater in the heavily hunted population, although may differ for males versus females due to behavior strategies. We marked 22 adult resident cougars in the lightly hunted population and 20 in the heavily hunted population with GPS collars from 2002 to 2008. Cougar densities and predation rates were similar among areas, suggesting no difference in per capita resources. We compared home range size, two-dimensional home range overlap, and three-dimensional utilization distribution overlap index (UDOI) among annual home ranges for male and female cougars. Male cougars in the heavily hunted area had larger sized home ranges and greater two-dimensional and three-dimensional UDOI overlap than those in the lightly hunted area. Females showed no difference in size and overlap of home range areas between study populations - further suggesting that differences in prey quantity and distribution between study areas did not explain differences in male spatial organization. We reject the spatial stability hypothesis and provide evidence to support the spatial instability hypothesis. Increased hunting and ensuing increased male home range size and overlap may result in negative demographic effects for cougars and potential unintended consequences for managers.

Keywords: Cougar; Puma concolor; home range; hunting; spatial organization; territoriality.