Cougar demographics and human interaction along the Urban-Exurban Front Range of Colorado
Led by Mat Alldredge
This project was initiated in 2007 to better understand the interactions between humans and cougars along the highly urbanized Front Range of Colorado and to develop and evaluate effective management prescriptions that may help sustain cougars in this human dominated landscape. The initial phase of this project concentrated on capturing cougars and placing GPS telemetry collars on adult cougars to document basic movements of cougars and their use of prey. Additionally, collared cougars that become involved in interactions with humans will potentially be subjected to a variety of aversive conditioning techniques to evaluate whether the behavior of such cougars could be changed to encourage cougars to avoid conflicts with humans. The project is anticipated to span several years and reach full-scale efforts in 2009. (updated 12/2008)
Cougar DNA technique evaluation
Led by Mat Alldredge, in cooperation Jerry Apker, Statewide Carnivore Manager, and Chuck Anderson
This project was initiated in 2007 to evaluate field techniques to use microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA to assess the meta-population status of cougars through out Colorado and to use DNA as a marker in capture-recapture efforts to estimate cougar densities in localized areas. A tooth will be obtained from all cougars harvested in Colorado. The tooth will provide estimates of cougar ages and provide a source of high quality DNA. DNA will be analyzed to assess whether several or few genetic subpopulations of cougars exist across Colorado and to establish genetic relationships between Colorado’s cougars and cougars in adjacent states. To date based on 2-years of data, analysis of DNA characteristics suggest cougars are comprised of one large meta-population across the western 2/3 of the state and appear to display less genetic statewide genetic variation than bears, indicating considerable mixing of cougar DNA across large geographic areas, presumably by male cougars dispersing when young. Additionally, captive cougars are providing the experimental opportunity to assess whether the quality and persistence of useable DNA in cougar fecal samples subjected to the variances of temperature and moisture in the field will allow using DNA to identify individual cougars for potential field applications of genetic mark/recapture. Further DNA sampling is planned for 1 or 2 more years to confirm statewide meta-population results. (updated 12/2008)
Puma population Biology on the Uncompahgre Plateau, Colorado
Led by Ken Logan
The purpose of this 10-year research project, initiated in 2004, is to evaluate assumptions underlying the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s model-based approach to managing pumas with sport-hunting. The project is designed in two 5-year periods– a reference period and a treatment period. In the reference period (completed in 2009) researchers quantified puma population abundance, structure, vital rates, and sources of mortality with sport-hunting removed as a mortality factor. In the treatment period (underway) researchers continue quantifying those same population characteristics with sport-hunting as a mortality factor. Harvest rates for the treatment are set according to assumptions used to manage other puma population in Colorado with hunting. In addition to studying the puma population in the treatment period, researchers also survey puma hunter behavior and performance on the study area to examine assumptions associated with sex and age structure of harvest data as an indicator to puma population trend.
Puma population characteristics are gathered principally by capturing, marking, radio-collaring, and tissue-sampling pumas representing a large majority of the study population. Data from captured and harvested pumas are used to parameterize population models to assess puma population dynamics without and with sport-hunting. As of March 2012, over 160 individual pumas were radio-collared, with most of the adults fitted with GPS collars. In addition, at least another 40 pumas were biologically characterized and tissue-sampled on and around the study area. Tissue samples allow researchers to use molecular genetics to assess relatedness of pumas in the population and maternity, paternity, reproductive success, and to estimate immigration. Behaviors exhibited by GPS/radio-collared pumas allow researchers to link those behaviors with information on genetic relatedness. In addition, we are collaborating with researchers at Colorado State University to examine puma blood samples to reveal types and frequency of disease exposure to pumas in Colorado. Associated with our efforts to estimate puma abundance, we conducted a pilot study in collaboration with other Colorado State University researchers to examine design factors involved in the use of a camera grid and mark-resight models to estimate puma abundance and density in a marked puma population. Research findings are expected to improve puma management in Colorado and to better inform its citizens.