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Cougar predation in a multi-prey system in west-central Alberta Open Access


Other title
Functional response
Puma concolor
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Knopff, Kyle
Supervisor and department
Boyce, Mark (Biological Science)
Examining committee member and department
Cassady St. Clair, Colleen (Biological Science)
Bowyer, R. Terry (Biological Sciences, Idaho State University)
Boutin, Stan (Biological Science)
Foote, Lee (Renewable Resources)
Department of Biological Sciences

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Predation by cougars (Puma concolor) variously can structure ecosystems and preserve biodiversity, engender conflict where livestock and pets are killed, and even drive prey populations to extinction. Effective management requires a firm grasp of the ecological drivers of predation, but these remain poorly understood due to difficulty obtaining sufficient data. My objective was to test hypotheses about drivers of predation in a population of wild cougars foraging in a multi-prey system in west-central Alberta, Canada. To obtain necessary data, I began by refining Global Positioning System (GPS) telemetry cluster techniques to monitor predation. I found that models alone were insufficient and that field visitation was required to estimate kill rate and prey composition accurately, but logistic regression models could direct field-work to improve efficiency, permitting continuous monitoring of cougar predation and generating large sample sizes. I assessed the role of scavenging as a foraging strategy and found that cougars scavenged opportunistically, reducing predation when carrion availability was high. Scavenging also made cougars susceptible to incidental snaring at wolf bait stations, and survival analysis revealed important consequences for cougar population trajectory and harvest management. I evaluated competing hypotheses about the magnitude of cougar predation and the influence of season and prey vulnerability on kill rate and prey composition. Cougars were effective predators, killing ungulates at rates near the upper end of the previously reported range. Cougar kill-rate increased by a factor of 1.5 in summer and cougars shifted prey composition seasonally as predicted by the juvenile and reproductive vulnerability hypotheses. Analysis of a multi-species functional response (MSFR) revealed that cougar impact on small populations of endangered prey is reduced by a tendency towards prey-switching but can be aggravated by the presence of individual specialists. Contrary to expectation, cougar MSFR was not driven by prey density, but rather by cougar demography and relative abundance of various prey. Finally, I reject the notion that cougars are nocturnal ambush predators, demonstrating instead that they hunt actively and make kills frequently during the day, exhibiting activity patterns loosely tied to those of their prey. I discuss the application of my findings for management and conservation.
License granted by Kyle Knopff ( on 2010-07-30T20:42:29Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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File title: Cougar thesis
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