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PeerJ. 2017 Nov 14;5:e4010. doi: 10.7717/peerj.4010. eCollection 2017.

Bed site selection by a subordinate predator: an example with the cougar (Puma concolor) in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Author information

1
Department of Biology, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY, United States of America.
2
Panthera, New York, NY, United States of America.

Abstract

As technology has improved, our ability to study cryptic animal behavior has increased. Bed site selection is one such example. Among prey species, bed site selection provides thermoregulatory benefits and mitigates predation risk, and may directly influence survival. We conducted research to test whether a subordinate carnivore also selected beds with similar characteristics in an ecosystem supporting a multi-species guild of competing predators. We employed a model comparison approach in which we tested whether cougar (Puma concolor) bed site attributes supported the thermoregulatory versus the predator avoidance hypotheses, or exhibited characteristics supporting both hypotheses. Between 2012-2016, we investigated 599 cougar bed sites in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and examined attributes at two scales: the landscape (second-order, n = 599) and the microsite (fourth order, n = 140). At the landscape scale, cougars selected bed sites in winter that supported both the thermoregulatory and predator avoidance hypotheses: bed sites were on steeper slopes but at lower elevations, closer to the forest edge, away from sagebrush and meadow habitat types, and on southern, eastern, and western-facing slopes. In the summer, bed attributes supported the predator avoidance hypothesis over the thermoregulation hypothesis: beds were closer to forest edges, away from sagebrush and meadow habitat classes, and on steeper slopes. At the microsite scale, cougar bed attributes in both the winter and summer supported both the predator avoidance and thermoregulatory hypotheses: they selected bed sites with high canopy cover, high vegetative concealment, and in a rugged habitat class characterized by cliff bands and talus fields. We found that just like prey species, a subordinate predator selected bed sites that facilitated both thermoregulatory and anti-predator functions. In conclusion, we believe that measuring bed site attributes may provide a novel means of measuring the use of refugia by subordinate predators, and ultimately provide new insights into the habitat requirements and energetics of subordinate carnivores.

KEYWORDS:

Bed site; Cougar; Puma concolor; Refugia

Conflict of interest statement

L. Mark Elbroch and Howard Quigley are employees of Panthera. Anna Kusler is a graduate student whose work is facilitated by Panthera.

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