CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Pumas are the subject of yet another U of I research project.
U of I student Alex Avrin and U of I natural resources and environmental sciences professors Max Allen are researching pumas through a camera-trap study. The study includes two ecosystems, one with pumas and one without, that adds to scientists’ understanding of the many ways the apex predators influence the abundance, diversity, and habits of other animals, including smaller carnivores.
Previous studies have shown that pumas tend to suppress populations of medium-sized carnivores like coyotes who tend to avoid pumas. Reduced coyote populations allow other medium-sized carnivores to flourish which creates an effect on many other species.
Pumas leave behind a lot of carrion, the decaying flesh of dead animals, allowing other animals to feast on the remains that the pumas don’t consume. On the other hand, coyotes tend to target smaller species and eat most of what they kill, leaving less behind for other creatures.
The researchers wanted to compare the dynamics of ecosystems with and without pumas.
Between 2011 and 2019, the researchers deployed grids of motion-activated cameras in various locations in the southern Santa Cruz Mountains of California and across the vast military installation of Fort Hood, Texas. The Santa Cruz location has a vast population of pumas along with bobcats, gray foxes, raccoons, striped skunks, and coyotes. The same mammals populate Ford Hood, except pumas.
Avrin and Allen discovered that wherever pumas were present in California, coyotes were rarely seen. However, because pumas are not in Fort Hood, coyotes do not become the apex predator in an ecosystem that lacks pumas.
The researchers said that the study gave them a fuller picture of what changes occur when an apex predator goes missing, highlighting how important it is to keep each species in place for an intact ecological community.