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WY – WILDLIFE – Return of wolves influenced mountain lion numbers, study says

Wolves’ return to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem a quarter century ago has been the primary force suppressing local mountain lion populations, a new study has concluded. That hypothesis was tested and confirmed using data amassed over the 16 years that the Teton Cougar Project tracked 147 cats on the east side of Jackson Hole. It was already known that lion numbers in this area fell by half during the study period, which coincided with wolves reoccupying the landscape. While the new canine competition was suggested as an explanation for the puma decline, until now the connection had never been confirmed with a vigorous analysis. “Our question was really clean,” former Jackson Hole resident and lion biologist Mark Elbroch told the News&Guide. “We know the cats declined — that’s not up for debate — but what caused it? Is it human hunting? Is it declining elk numbers? Or is it increasing wolves? “The answer we have the most support for,” he said, “is it was increasing wolves.” Elbroch used an “integrated population model” that simulated lion populations under different ecological conditions to back that statement. Disparate data fed into the analysis, like kitten counts, lion hunter harvest and estimated cougar, wolf and elk populations. “We were able to use all of our data,” he said, “rather than just subsets of it.” Wolves put a hurt on lion populations in two ways that the researchers deciphered. For one, they directly kill them, especially kittens. In 2014, for example, Wyoming’s largest wolf pack dwelled in the Gros Ventre River area — and they weren’t welcoming of the Cougar Project’s research cats.  [full article]

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