Mountain lions were more likely to cross busy roads, travel further, and move around during the day in the 15 months following the Woolsey fire in Los Angeles, putting an already vulnerable group of cats at risk.
|Mountain lions crossed major roads more frequently after a 2018 wildfire razed areas of the woods where they live near Los Angeles. National Park Service, United States|
Mountain lions near Los Angeles, California, were more likely to cross roads, travel further, and be active during the day, when encounters with humans are most likely, following a 2018 wildfire. Researchers are concerned about the urban cats' bolder behavior, noting that increasing wildfires may jeopardize their future.
They discovered significant differences in the behavior of mountain lions after the fire. The cats' average number of road crossings increased from three to five per month in the 15 months following the fire, and their monthly distance traveled increased from 250 to 390 kilometers.
Mountain lions were also more likely to come into contact with other mountain lions, which can result in fighting between solitary cats. The researchers believe these changes reflect their desire to avoid other mountain lions as well as a desperate need to find and hunt food without the cover of vegetation.
"The size and location of this fire really lent itself to asking some of those bigger questions about the interaction of fire and urbanisation," says Megan Jennings, a researcher at San Diego State University in California who was not involved in the research. "It's nice to have that confirmation and understanding of what's going on so we can take better action."
Because the area has seen an increase in wildfires in recent years, the discovery highlights the importance of corridors and highway overpasses that could help local mountain lions and other wildlife move and hunt safely.
Journal citation: Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.08.082.
The wooded Santa Monica mountains north of Los Angeles are home to approximately 100 mountain lions, which have managed to survive despite being surrounded by large highways and human development by hunting mule deer.
"This [mountain lion] population is really special, not just because it's very much loved by the people... but because it's a population that's very much at risk," says Rachel Blakey, who is now a professor at Cal Poly Pomona in California.
This unusual breed of cats has been studied for over two decades, and many of the animals are constantly tracked using GPS and activity monitor collars. Researchers compared movement data from 17 mountain lions before and after the 2018 Woolsey fire, which scorched more than 400 square kilometers of land – roughly half of the cats' habitat.