The impact of human land uses on ecological systems typically differ relative to how extensively natural conditions are modified. Exurban development is intermediate-intensity residential development that often occurs in natural landscapes. Most species-habitat models do not evaluate the effects of such intermediate levels of human development and even fewer predict how future development patterns might affect the amount and configuration of habitat. We addressed these deficiencies by interfacing a habitat model with a spatially-explicit housing-density model to study the effect of human land uses on the habitat of pumas (Puma concolor) in southern California. We studied the response of pumas to natural and anthropogenic features within their home ranges and how mortality risk varied across a gradient of human development. We also used our housing-density model to estimate past and future housing densities and model the distribution of puma habitat in 1970, 2000, and 2030. The natural landscape for pumas in our study area consisted of riparian areas, oak woodlands, and open, conifer forests embedded in a chaparral matrix. Pumas rarely incorporated suburban or urban development into their home ranges, which is consistent with the hypothesis that the behavioral decisions of individuals can be collectively manifested as population-limiting factors at broader spatial scales. Pumas incorporated rural and exurban development into their home ranges, apparently perceiving these areas as modified, rather than non-habitat. Overall, pumas used exurban areas less than expected and showed a neutral response to rural areas. However, individual pumas that selected for or showed a neutral response to exurban areas had a higher risk of mortality than pumas that selected against exurban habitat. Exurban areas are likely hotspots for puma-human conflict in southern California. Approximately 10% of our study area will transform from exurban, rural, or undeveloped areas to suburban or urban by 2030, and 35% of suitable puma habitat on private land in 1970 will have been lost by 2030. These land-use changes will further isolate puma populations in southern California, but the ability to visualize these changes had provided a new tool for developing proactive conservation solutions.
Additional publication details
Interfacing models of wildlife habitat and human development to predict the future distribution of puma habitat