New Study Shows Mountain Lions Help Engineer Their Habitats

Dec 17, 2018

A mountain lion burying a deer carcass. The new study shows that such caches provide important habitat and food for hundreds of species.
Credit Flickr Creative Commons/Jon Nelson

We're used to thinking of beavers as ecological engineers, but a new study shows that mountain lions may modify their environments in a similar way.

Mark Elbroch, the Director of the Puma Project for the wildlife advocacy group, Panthera, said, unlike wolves, mountain lions leave large intact pieces of dead meat on the landscape that draw lots of species that then distribute those nutrients far and wide.

"It is so important to ecosystem health to maintain carrion on the landscape which supports a huge diversity of wildlife through supplemental feeding, through maintenance of invertebrate community. It just goes on and on," said Elbroch.

Elbroch said, for instance, his study found 215 different species of beetles on only 18 carcasses.

"You have beetles that meet up with their mates on these carcasses, they lay their eggs on the carcass, they raise their young on the carcass, they hide their young in the folds, in the crevasses of the carcass so other predators won't eat them," he said. "And so truly a carcass is the habitat required by many beetle species."

Elbroch said, many wildlife managers are concerned mostly about how mountain lions affect deer and elk herd sizes. He said right now some states, including Wyoming, probably allow too many mountain lions to be hunted and that could diminish the positive role the species plays on the landscape.