Fragmentation and a puma-driven trophic cascade

Large predators can have a major influence on plant community composition via cascading effects on herbivores. Prey animals may be less abundant in the areas where they are hunted, or they may learn to avoid the places in which they are in danger of predation. 

Pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California are less likely to kill blacktailed deer in areas close to human development. I am collaborating on a project to test the hypothesis that deer spend more time in areas where they are at lower risk of predation, and that trees in such areas experience higher browsing rates. Pumas could in this way indirectly benefit (and human development indirectly harm) critical forest species such as coast live oak.

This work is being carried out in collaboration with Veronica Yovovich and Chris Wilmers of the UC Santa Cruz Puma Project. Puma photo courtesy of Hannah Mello.