Habitat Suitability Analysis for Mountain lions (Puma concolor) on the Southern Cumberland Plateau
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Since the 1940’s mountain lions (Puma concolor) have been extirpated from the eastern United States due to exhaustive hunting, habitat loss, and declining prey populations. Recently, however, evidence suggests that existing mountain lion populations are expanding and recolonizing sites where they have been absent for nearly a century. The southern Cumberland Plateau ecoregion of Tennessee and Alabama, part of the historic home ranges for the extirpated Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) and Eastern Cougar (Puma concolor cougar), contains some of the largest remaining tracts of contiguous native forests in the southeast. We built this habitat suitability model because the southern Cumberland Plateau represents unique potential mountain lion habitat in the southeastern US and because there is a need for landscape level habitat analyses in the eastern US for this species. Using a geographic information system (GIS) we examined landscape and habitat characteristics including road density, land cover type, patch density, and contagion in seven counties in Tennessee and three counties in Alabama to determine the quality and extent of potential mountain lion habitat in the Southern Cumberland Plateau Ecoregion. Based on habitat characteristics for mountain lions in other areas, we identified between 940 km² and 2,240 km² of likely suitable habitat, which could theoretically support a population of 27 to 65 individuals. High suitability habitat predicted by the model also correlates with the locations of unconfirmed mountain lion sightings in the study area.
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