Connecting movement ecology and population dynamics for a large carnivore in a human-dominated landscape by Anna Nisi

Anna Nisi

UC Santa Cruz | Marie & Barry Lipman

I study puma movement ecology, population dynamics, and the interplay between the two in the Santa Cruz Mountains, with the goal of better understanding how large carnivores and humans can coexist in mixed-used and fragmented landscapes.


Understanding the links between individual and population processes is key to wildlife conservation in heterogeneous, human-dominated landscapes. In these areas, animal movement reflects how individuals balance the risks and costs of living alongside people. In turn, these behaviors can scale up to impact population dynamics, which must be rigorously and mechanistically quantified to enable effective conservation and management. These interrelated concepts are of particular conservation importance for large carnivore species, whose decline is widespread across the globe and whose conservation in human-dominated landscapes is essential for their continued persistence. In my dissertation, I employ statistical modeling to quantify the links between movement ecology, behavior, and population dynamics for pumas (Puma concolor) in the fragmented Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Specifically, I quantify (1) the movement and behavioral strategies employed by pumas in relation to humans, and (2) how these strategies interact with climate change through drought conditions. I investigate whether these strategies (3) allow pumas to avoid the risk of being killed by people, and (4) assess the impacts of habitat fragmentation on puma population viability. Finally, taking an interdisciplinary approach, I (5) consider the links between wildlife habitat connectivity and the social and political drivers of land use policies that produce exurban sprawl. Results of my work indicate that while pumas employ various movement strategies to avoid encountering humans, these strategies are not actually effective at reducing their risk of being killed by people. Further, population modeling indicates that wide swaths of the Santa Cruz Mountains cannot support a stable puma population. This work highlights the regions that must be protected to ensure long-term population viability. While pumas, like many large carnivores, exhibit complex behavioral strategies and responses to humans in fragmented landscapes, their behavioral flexibility is likely not sufficient for their long-term persistence in these areas. But, understanding the links between carnivore movement, behavior, and population dynamics can allow for conservation strategies and management action that support carnivore coexistence alongside people within human-dominated landscapes.


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