Mountain Lion (Puma concolor) Population Characteristics and Resource Selection in the North Dakota Badlands


Mountain lions (Puma concolor) have significant ecological impacts on the ecosystems they inhabit, leading to both biological and social ramifications. Yet, due to the relatively recent natural recolonization by mountain lions of the Little Missouri Badlands Region of western North Dakota, detailed data regarding many aspects of this population have been lacking. Therefore, we studied mountain lions occupying the Badlands Region to improve our understanding of mountain lion population ecology, resource selection, and occurrence in North Dakota. Our objectives were to: 1) improve the accuracy of home range size, subadult movement, and survival estimates of mountain lions in North Dakota, 2) employ statistical population reconstruction (SPR) techniques to model the mountain lion population in North Dakota and use it to estimate population abundance, population density, and investigate population trajectory, 3) investigate individual and population-level resource selection and develop a population-level resource selection function (RSF) for mountain lions across the Badlands, and 4) create a statewide habitat suitability map for the species and compare it with previous models, and 5) estimate statewide carrying capacity for mountain lions based upon quantity of suitable habitat. During 2015 and 2016, we captured and marked nine mountain lions (3 M, 6 F) across the Badlands. We included data collected from 16 other mountain lions marked during previous research in our analyses when appropriate. Annual 95% home ranges for males averaged 295.44 km2 (CI = 226.64–364.25 km2) while females averaged 127.49 km2 (CI = 83.27–171.71 km2). We recorded subadult movement patterns for one subadult male and one subadult female. Between 2012 and 2016, average annual survival was estimated at 45.6% (95% CI = 26.4–66.1). Sex-specific survival was estimated at 58.9% (95% CI = 33.8–80.0) for females and 25.9% (95% CI = 8.9–55.5) for males. Additionally, we recorded 17 cause-specific mortalities of marked mountain lions over the same five-year period. Between 2005 and 2017, annual population abundance estimates ranged from low a of 27 total mountain lions (95% CI = 1–52) in 2005-06 to a high of 165 total mountain lions (95% CI = 89–241) in 2011-12. We produced 12 annual density estimates (2005-17), which ranged from a low of 0.45 total mountain lions/100 km2 in 2005-06 to a high of 2.8 total mountain lions/100 km2 in 2011-12. Mountain lions exhibited varying individual responses to habitat components, yet population-level patterns emerged. Mountain lions showed strong positive selection for landscape ruggedness, edge habitat, and forest, while displaying negative responses to disturbed anthropogenic landcovers. We used the population-level RSF to map suitable habitat for mountain lions across the state of North Dakota, which indicated 3,969 km2 of suitable habitat in North Dakota, approximately 60% of which occurred in the Badlands and Missouri River Breaks regions. Our model validated well, and produced a carrying capacity estimate of 38 to 61 (range = 11–88) resident adult mountain lions, based upon published population densities and quantity of suitable habitat in North Dakota. Managers in North Dakota now have the information needed to make scientificallyinformed decisions regarding the current and future management of this apex predator

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