Michael A. Sawaya, Ph.D. (Sinopah Wildlife Research Associates)
Daniel R. Stahler, Ph.D. (National Park Service)
Toni K. Ruth, Ph.D. (Independent Scientist)
Howard B. Quigley, Ph.D. (Panthera)
Christopher C. Wilmers, Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Cruz)
Three decades of research have shown that cougars (Puma concolor) play a key role, along with wolves (Canis lupus), grizzly bears (Ursus arctos), and black bears (U. americanus) in predator-prey dynamics on the Northern Range of Yellowstone National Park; however, little is currently known about the status of the cougar population. Recent developments in noninvasive genetic sampling techniques for cougars (Sawaya et al. 2011) now allow for the estimation of demographic and genetic parameters for cougar populations by following tracks in snow to bed sites and natural hair snags (e.g., branch tips, thorn bushes). During winter 2013-14, Dr. Daniel Stahler along with our group of collaborators initiated the Yellowstone Cougar Project- Phase 3 with support from the Yellowstone Park Foundation.
1) to estimate density and population growth rate for cougars on the Northern Range of Yellowstone National Park.
2) to examine long-term cougar population genetics in a protected system.
3) to gain a better understanding of cougar energetics and the role that cougars play in ecological services.
4) to promote public participation in carnivore conservation through citizen science.
We completed our first field season at the end of March 2014. During this pilot year, we surveyed >1300km for tracks and collected 186 hair samples, 21 scat, and 7 urine samples. We had a very successful first field season and have secured funding from the Yellowstone Park Foundation and National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue and expand our DNA sampling efforts in winter 2014-15. During Spring 2014, field crew leader Colby Anton was accepted as a PhD student at UC Santa Cruz and was awarded a NSF pre-doctoral fellowship to support his doctoral research on cougars with Dr. Chris Wilmers.
For more details, see the first annual project report(pdf).
Yellowstone Cougar Project