In the high plains of the Andes in central Chile, an ecosystem consisting of only a few animal species provides researchers with new insights into how predators coexist in the wild.
“Cougars and colibio fox are the only predators in the landscape in the Chilean Andes Mountains,” said Professor Marcela Kelly of the College of Natural Resources and the Environment. There is no wide variety of prey species, partly due to guanacos [closely related to llamas] It is not usually found in these areas anymore due to poaching. With such a simplified ecosystem, we thought we could really determine how two competing predators would interact. “
Kelly worked with Christian Osorio, a PhD student in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, and researchers from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile to map the locations and potential interactions between pumas and foxes in central Chile. They focused on three axes of interaction: spatial (where the animals are found in the landscape), temporal (timing of specific activities on a particular landscape), and diet (what each species eats).
To understand the interaction between owls and foxes, the researchers deployed 50 imaging stations across two locations in central Chile, one in the Río Los Cebricis National Reserve and the other on private land where cattle and horses are raised. They also collected fecal samples at both sites for food analysis of owls and foxes.
Team results published in the journal diversity, Showed that although owls and foxes overlapped significantly where they lived and when they were active, there was little overlap in what they ate, as the puma’s diet consisted primarily of large rabbit species introduced from Europe, while young Colpio foxes preferred Rabbits, rodents, seeds. The two types of predators can share landscapes and successfully search for food during the same hours of the night because, in essence, they are ordering from different menus.
“It is possible that the foxes realized that when they were trying to catch rabbits, they might have a problem with the puma,” Osorio explained. “If they hunt smaller mammals, the puma doesn’t care, but if the foxes start targeting larger prey, the puma will interact.”
How predator species interact is an important question for ecologists trying to understand the dynamics that inform ecosystem scales. While the owls have been classified as a species of less concern, the animal population is declining, and conservation continues.
Osorio noted that “less concern does not mean no anxiety.” “We have laws in Chile that protect the species, but the data that we have to set protection is very scattered. As we collect more consistent and reliable data, cougars may be reclassified as vulnerable or even at risk.
The hares, which make up nearly 70 percent of the biomass in the puma diet, are a non-native species introduced by European settlers to the area. With guanacos absent from the landscape, puma had to adapt its diet to stay alive.
With some land managers and conservationists campaigning to remove the rabbit species introduced as a way to restore the area’s original ecosystem, Kelly and Osorio note that it is important to understand that puma will be significantly affected by a decrease in the primary food source.
Another concern, the two are currently looking into, is the interaction between wildlife and humans. The national reserve sees visitors increasingly excited to see big cats and foxes in their natural habitat, while the sheep and cattle industries are increasingly using the remote terrain to raise livestock.
“Puma sometimes kills cattle, which is a challenge we’re looking forward to now,” said Kelly, a member of the Fralin Institute of Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. “The government wants to conserve puma, but there are competing challenges over what kind of threat they pose to livestock and what kind of threat to livestock or sheep breeding.”
Understanding how two predatory species might coexist has the potential to provide conservationists and environmental scientists with better insights into how humans and wildlife can participate in the landscape.
Written by David Fleming
Pumas has an obsession … for Calvin Klein
Besides traditional lures of bait and urine to lure puma into the cameras, the researchers used an unexpected product: Calvin Klein cologne is an obsession for men. “For some reason, Cougars are especially attracted to this scent,” Kelly said. Anyone going for a hike in the High Andes Mountains may want to forgo wearing strong fragrances before heading out.