In February, research cameras located just west of the famed Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles captured photos of a mountain lion (Puma concolor), providing new evidence that mountain lions may utilize corridors to travel between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Griffith Park wilderness.
The remote cameras were located near Highway 101 along the Cahuenga Pass, installed by wildlife biologists from Cooper Ecological Monitoring and the USGS Western Ecological Research Center to study the landscape connectivity of the Griffith Park region with neighboring wildlands -- and whether wildlife could move freely among them.
The mountain lion was an unexpected find, but it isn’t necessarily a sign that a lion has taken up residence in Griffith Park. Mountain lions are known to travel over areas much larger than the Griffith Park region, and at any given time, this particular lion could be anywhere in the greater Santa Monica Mountains range, or possibly even the Verdugos or the San Gabriels.
Hence the biologists’ interest in studying landscape connectivity.
“Landscape connectivity is important for the maintenance of natural biodiversity and ecosystem functioning,” says Erin Boydston, a carnivore ecologist at WERC and co-leader on the Griffith Park Wildlife Connectivity Study. “These photos suggest how these seemingly disconnected wildernesses may be linked, and how animals are moving across highways and other urban features.”
Fortunately, Boydston will now have an easier time tracking this new cat and studying landscape connectivity. In late March, biologists from the National Park Service captured a mountain lion in the same area, taking tissue samples and attaching a GPS tracking collar on the animal -- most likely the same male lion that was sighted in the photos.
“It will be very interesting to see where this animal goes and how long he stays there,” says park ecologist Seth Riley, who collaborates on many urban wildlife research projects with Boydston and other WERC scientists.
The Griffith Park region -- which forms the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains eco-region -- is surrounded by highways and other development. These urban features can limit connectivity between habitats, isolating populations of animal species. When animals are unable to cross these urban features, their populations may be prone to inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity.
Decreased genetic diversity may increase a population’s chance of extinction. By studying the movement of large and medium-sized mammals to and from Griffith Park, researchers can identify potential corridors that may connect the Griffith Park region to other wildlands and allow for natural ecosystem function -- particularly in the case of top predators, which are integral to a functioning food web.
The Griffith cameras had previously captured photos of several mammal species, including mule deer, striped skunk, coyote, bobcat and raccoon.
“Whether you live in a city or a rural part of California, wild animals are your neighbors,” says biologist Dan Cooper of Cooper Ecological Monitoring, also a project co-leader along with biologist Miguel Ordeñana. “Research like the Griffith Park connectivity study will be useful to agencies and communities trying to understand how wild mammals coexist with our suburban landscape.”
-- Ben Young Landis
- Learn more about Boydston's USGS research on urban carnivores
- Explore the California Department of Fish and Game's website on living with mountain lions and other suburban wildlife
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