Mountain lions hunt their mule deer prey closer to human settlements around Los Angeles than locations randomly distributed across their home ranges, according to a study published July 13, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by John Benson from the University of California, Los Angeles, US, and colleagues.
Los Angeles is one of only two megacities inhabited by large predatory cats. Understanding how big cats interact with such human settlements aids development of strategies for their conservation. The authors of the present study used field observations and GPS radio collars to track 26 mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles. They identified the lions' prey and assessed how their preferred hunting grounds were situated relative to natural and manmade landscape features.
The researchers found that both sexes tended to hunt closer to human development than expected, though just two of 420 kills were actually made inside developed areas. While males tended to prey on deer in woodlands near creeks and rivers, females hunted closer to human developments, making kills on average less than a mile from settlements.
The choice of hunting grounds may reflect areas where prey are abundant. The mountain lions' main prey, mule deer, are attracted to water sources and lush vegetation, including woodlands near natural water sources, as well as swimming pools and cultivated gardens in human settlements. Male mountain lions preyed on deer in areas of riparian woodlands, whereas females avoided these areas. The authors suggested that females may hunt in the more developed areas as part of a strategy to visit areas where prey are abundant while avoiding encounters with aggressive males.
While the study was limited to 26 lions in a single geographical area, the study area was unique among mountain lion studies in that the authors were able to track mountain lions along a gradient of human presence that included relatively remote areas of the Santa Monica Mountains and also areas within the second largest metropolitan area of the United States. The authors suggest that the hunting patterns of these mountain lions reflect the trade-off between an aversion to areas of human settlement and an attraction to prey-rich environments.
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Citation: Benson JF, Sikich JA, Riley SPD (2016) Individual and Population Level Resource Selection Patterns of Mountain Lions Preying on Mule Deer along an Urban-Wildland Gradient. PLoS ONE 11(7): e0158006. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0158006
Funding: The authors received funding for this research from the La Kretz Center for California Conservation at UCLA, California State Parks, the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy/Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, and the Calabasas Landfill. The funding from the La Kretz Center for California Conservation came in the form of a postdoctoral fellowship for JFB made possible by an endowment from Morton La Kretz to UCLA through the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. This fellowship was co-funded by the National Park Service. The other organizations noted above provided funding for mountain lion research that were not connected to specific grants. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.