Models of Regional Habitat for Pumas in the Southwest

LCI members Brett Dickson and Jill Rundall have co-authored a recent publication on habitat modeling and connectivity of pumas in the Southwest region of North America.

Models of Regional Habitat Quality and Connectivity for Pumas (Puma concolor) in the Southwestern United States

Here is the abstract:

The impact of landscape changes on the quality and connectivity of habitats for multiple wildlife species is of global conservation concern. In the southwestern United States, pumas (Puma concolor) are a well distributed and wide-ranging large carnivore that are sensitive to loss of habitat and to the disruption of pathways that connect their populations. We used an expert-based approach to define and derive variables hypothesized to influence the quality, location, and permeability of habitat for pumas within an area encompassing the entire states of Arizona and New Mexico. Survey results indicated that the presence of woodland and forest cover types, rugged terrain, and canyon bottom and ridgeline topography were expected to be important predictors of both high quality habitat and heightened permeability. As road density, distance to water, or human population density increased, the quality and permeability of habitats were predicted to decline. Using these results, we identified 67 high quality patches across the study area, and applied concepts from electronic circuit theory to estimate regional patterns of connectivity among these patches. Maps of current flow among individual pairs of patches highlighted possible pinch points along two major interstate highways. Current flow summed across all pairs of patches highlighted areas important for keeping the entire network connected, regardless of patch size. Cumulative current flow was highest in Arizona north of the Colorado River and around Grand Canyon National Park, and in the Sky Islands region owing to the many small habitat patches present. Our outputs present a first approximation of habitat quality and connectivity for dispersing pumas in the southwestern United States. Map results can be used to help target finer-scaled analyses in support of planning efforts concerned with the maintenance of puma metapopulation structure, as well as the protection of landscape features that facilitate the dispersal process.

One thought on “Models of Regional Habitat for Pumas in the Southwest

  1. Love this idea…I just watched a documentary about Florida panthers and efforts to create a panther highway, if you will, that would connect the Everglades populations to pumas as far away as Arkansas. It would be an amazing thing to continue that highway all the way through the Southwest and on to California…and, for that matter, why do we not create an animal interstate highway system to connect populations of animal species that occur throughout the country to give them the ability to migrate and intermingle, maintaining healthy levels of genetic diversity, in relative safety? Just a thought. Nice work, Jill.

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