There are several alternative hypotheses about the effects of territoriality, kinship and prey availability on individual carnivore distributions within populations. The first is the land-tenure hypothesis, which predicts that carnivores regulate their density through territoriality and temporal avoidance. The second is the kinship hypothesis, which predicts related individuals will be clumped within populations, and the third is the resource dispersion hypothesis, which suggests that resource richness may explain variable sociality, spatial overlap or temporary aggregations of conspecifics. Research on the socio-spatial organization of animals is essential in understanding territoriality, intra- and interspecific competition, and contact rates that influence diverse ecology, including disease transmission between conspecifics and courtship behaviours. We explored these hypotheses with data collected on a solitary carnivore, the cougar (Puma concolor), from 2005 to 2012 in the Southern Yellowstone Ecosystem, Wyoming, USA. We employed 27 annual home ranges for 13 cougars to test whether home range overlap was better explained by land tenure, kinship, resource dispersion or some combination of the three. We found support for both the land tenure and resource dispersion hypotheses, but not for kinship. Cougar sex was the primary driver explaining variation in home range overlap. Males overlapped significantly with females, whereas the remaining dyads (F-F, M-M) overlapped significantly less. In support for the resource dispersion hypothesis, hunting opportunity (the probability of a cougar killing prey in a given location) was often higher in overlapping than in non-overlapping portions of cougar home ranges. In particular, winter hunt opportunity rather than summer hunt opportunity was higher in overlapping portions of female-female and male-female home ranges. Our results may indicate that solitary carnivores are more tolerant of sharing key resources with unrelated conspecifics than previously believed, or at least during periods of high resource availability. Further, our results suggest that the resource dispersion hypothesis, which is typically applied to social species, is applicable in describing the spatial organization of solitary carnivores.
Keywords: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem; Puma concolor; home range; migratory prey; spatial organization; territoriality.
© 2015 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology © 2015 British Ecological Society.