From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published October 5, 2012 03:50 PM

Mountain Lion Goes West

The cougar, also known as the puma, mountain lion, or catamount, is a mammal of the family Felidae, native to the Americas. This large, solitary cat has the greatest range of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere, extending from Yukon to the southern Andes of South America. An adaptable, generalist species, the cougar is found in every major American habitat type. A new study, said to be the first of its kind in such scale, indicates mountain lions in Nevada’s Great Basin are migrating westward to California to take up residence. It’s the opposite of what biologists expected. The seven-year study, jointly conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Nevada, Reno and the Nevada Department of Wildlife, used genetics to identify distinct populations of mountain lions in Nevada and California. The research was recently published in the online edition of Molecular Ecology.

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What makes this migration unusual is that movement towards the west is more towards human populated areas as opposed to towards the east where humans are less. Also because cougars are hunted in Nevada but not in California, it was thought more of the highly territorial predators would migrate east into Nevada, moving into habitat made available when lions were killed by hunters.

The study, "Identification of Source-Sink Dynamics in Mountain Lions of the Great Basin" appears online in August's early-view edition of the journal Molecular Ecology. Authors of the study include: Alyson M. Andreasen of the University of Nevada; Jon P. Beckmann of WCS; and Matthew L. Forester, William S. Longland, and Kelley M. Stewart of the University of Nevada.

Cougars are slender and agile members of the cat family. They are the fourth largest cat and adults stand about 60 24 to 35 inches tall at the shoulders. Adult males are around 7.9 feet long nose to tail and females average 6.7 feet), with overall ranges between 4.9 to 9.0 feet nose to tail suggested for the species in general.

Males typically weigh 115 to 220 pounds, averaging 137 pounds. Females typically weigh between 64 and 141 pounds,

"We expected they would move in the direction of open territory. We found exactly the opposite to be the case," said Alyson Andreasen, a UNR doctoral student and a lead researcher in the study. "There was actually more movement from the Great Basin into the Sierra. They were going more from east to west than west to east, which was kind of a surprise to everybody."

The seven-year study, jointly conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Nevada, Reno and the Nevada Department of Wildlife, used genetics to identify distinct populations of mountain lions in Nevada and California. The research was recently published in the online edition of Molecular Ecology.

For further information see Go West.

Cougar image via Wikipedia.

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