Using spatial characteristics of apex carnivore communication and reproductive behaviors to predict responses to future human development

Veronica Yovovich, Maximilian L. Allen, Luke T. Macaulay, Christopher C. Wilmers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A growing body of evidence has documented how wildlife alter their behavior in response to human encroachment. For carnivores, behaviors related to reproduction and communication are particularly sensitive to human disturbance and can provide an early warning indicator of development’s negative impacts. Despite the important role carnivores play in an ecosystem, few tools have been developed to anticipate how future human development impacts these behaviors. We developed a set of models to understand spatial relationships between anthropogenic development and puma (Puma concolor) habitat selection for two critical reproductive behaviors: nursery habitat for raising young, and sites for communication with mates. Using geospatial location data from the Santa Cruz Mountains in California, USA, we found that female pumas use small nursery home ranges (9 km2 ± 1.72 SE) of predominantly natural habitat, potentially with low levels of human development (< 1 housing unit per 40 acres), when supporting kittens < 8 weeks old. Areas immediately surrounding (≤ 600 m) puma communication sites were also almost entirely composed of undeveloped habitat or low-density development. When modeling projected human development compared to current land use, we found that increases in human development may eliminate 20% of current puma nursery habitat and nearly 50% of current communication site habitat. Future development will also increase the patchiness of suitable habitat, intensifying the difficulty of locating and accessing suitable areas for nurseries and communication. Focusing on the habitat needed to support reproductive and communication behaviors may be an effective way to prioritize conservation planning for pumas and other apex carnivores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2589-2603
Number of pages15
JournalBiodiversity and Conservation
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • Anthropogenic development
  • Breeding habitat
  • Communication
  • Habitat loss
  • Habitat selection
  • Puma concolor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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