Estimates of survival for the young of a species are critical for population models. These models can often be improved by determining the effects of management actions and population abundance on this demographic parameter. We used multiple sources of data collected during 1982-2008 and a live-recapture dead-recovery modeling framework to estimate and model survival of Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) kittens (age 0-1 year). Overall, annual survival of Florida panther kittens was 0.323 + or - 0.071 (SE), which was lower than estimates used in previous population models. In 1995, female pumas from Texas (P. c. stanleyana) were released into occupied panther range as part of an intentional introgression program to restore genetic variability. We found that kitten survival generally increased with degree of admixture: F1 admixed and backcrossed to Texas kittens survived better than canonical Florida panther and backcrossed to canonical kittens. Average heterozygosity positively influenced kitten and older panther survival, whereas index of panther abundance negatively influenced kitten survival. Our results provide strong evidence for the positive population-level impact of genetic introgression on Florida panthers. Our approach to integrate data from multiple sources was effective at improving robustness as well as precision of estimates of Florida panther kitten survival, and can be useful in estimating vital rates for other elusive species with sparse data.
Additional publication details
Genetic introgression and the survival of Florida panther kittens