The influence of habitat features and co-occurring species on puma (Puma concolor) occupancy across eight sites in Belize, Central America
Rowe, Christopher Brian
MetadataShow full item record
Large carnivores play many vital biological, economic, and conservation roles, however, their biological traits (low population densities, cryptic behavior) make them difficult to monitor. Pumas have been particularly difficult to study because the lack of distinctive markings on their coats prevents individual identification, precluding mark-recapture and other similar analyses. Further, compared to temperate areas, research on the interspecific interactions of Central American felids is particularly lacking. I used single- and multi-season, single-species occupancy models and two-species co-occurrence models to analyze camera trapping and habitat data collected at eight study sites across Belize. Puma occupancy was positively influenced by jaguar trap success, understory density, canopy cover, and human trap success, and negatively influenced by stream density. Jaguar trap success was the best predictor of where pumas occurred, while prey species were not found to influence puma occupancy. Mean occupancy was 0.740 (0.013) and ranged from 0.587 (0.042) to 0.924 (0.030). Over time, puma occupancy rates were generally high (> 0.90) and stable. Puma occupancy was higher in logged areas, suggesting that current levels of natural resource extraction at those sites were not detrimental to the species. Co-occurrence modeling showed little evidence for interactions between the carnivores, suggesting that jaguars may be acting as an umbrella species and that conservation efforts directed at jaguars are likely to benefit the other carnivores, including pumas. Overall, these findings are positive for puma conservation, but human-induced land use change is expanding and further monitoring will give us insight into how pumas respond to human encroachment.
- Masters Theses