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Cougars Likely To Recolonize Parts of U.S.
December 3, 2015

A groundbreaking new study shows that cougars, also known as mountain lions and pumas, are likely to recolonize portions of habitat in the middle part of the United States within the next 25 years. It is the first study to show the potential “when and where” of the repopulation of this controversial large predator.

This map shows the study area for modeling demographic matrix for cougars and confirmed locations of cougars in Midwestern North America during 1990-2008 (LaRue et. al. 2012). Image courtesy of University of Minnesota.

Led by researchers at the University of Minnesota and Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the study, “Population Viability of Recolonizating Cougars in Midwestern North America”, is expected to be published in the international journal Ecological Modelling.

This is the first, large-scale population viability study on cougars. The research examined more than 40 years worth of data on demographics and geographical information on more than 3 million square kilometers to determine possible areas of population establishment. The researchers specifically looked at the female dispersal since population settlement is dependent upon the arrival of females in a given area.

“We didn’t just look at where they are now, but where they could go,” said study author Michelle LaRue, a University of Minnesota research associate in the College of Science and Engineering’s Department of Earth Sciences. “These are predictive models, but we feel that our study could be an important tool for conservation of this species and education about a large carnivore that can sometimes incite fear.”

Breeding populations of cougars are already living in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and researchers noted four breeding populations in North Dakota and Nebraska. The new study shows that cougars could be expected in the next two decades in Arkansas, Missouri and Nebraska with the potential to sustain existing populations in the Dakotas and Nebraska.

The next step in the process is to examine human acceptance and attitudes toward the repopulation of cougars, said LaRue, who is also the executive director of the Cougar Network, a nonprofit research organization.

This research was funded primarily by the Summerlee Foundation, a private nonprofit charitable foundation supporting animal protection.

This article reprinted from materials provided by the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.

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