The difference between killing and eating: Ecological shortcomings of puma energetic models

L. Mark Elbroch, Maximilian L. Allen, Blake H. Lowrey, Heiko U. Wittmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bioenergetic modeling is employed to estimate the energetic demands of many cryptic carnivores and their kill rates needed to meet their energetic requirements. We tested two prevalent assumptions driving energetic modeling of predator kill rates: (1) morphological and physiological information (weight, energetic demands of activity patterns) of individual predators are sufficient to accurately predict their kill rates, and (2) kill and consumption rates are equivalent (meaning that carnivores consume all of what they kill). We did this by testing whether two independent energetic models accurately predicted puma (Puma concolor) kill and consumption rates in three study systems in North and South America with variable ecology, including climate and prey assemblages. Our results demonstrated that current puma energetic models drastically underestimate actual puma kill rates quantified through intensive field monitoring. We concluded that puma energetic models more realistically estimate puma consumption rates needed to meet metabolic requirements. Puma kill rates determined from field efforts were not explained by puma weight (in kg) or activity patterns (in distance traveled), which were the variables used in energetic models. Our kill rates in kg/day determined from field investigations of GPS clusters were the highest reported to date and statistically equivalent across three distinct ecosystems, a range of puma characteristics, variable lengths of monitoring, variable daily distances traveled, and across systems with 13 ungulate prey. In contrast, puma kill rates in ungulates/ week differed across study areas, suggesting that kill rates described in kilograms per day are better suited for comparing puma kill rates across systems while kill rates in terms of ungulates per unit time are better suited for modeling predator-prey dynamics for a particular ecosystem. Based on these results we concluded that energetic models using morphological and physiological variables alone were insufficient to predict kill rates, and proposed that rather than focusing future research on refining current energetic models, future research should be directed at understanding the behavioral ecology driving carnivore kill rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number53
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 15 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioenergetic modeling
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Kill rates
  • Kleptoparasitism
  • Patagonia
  • Predation
  • Puma concolor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

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