According to research, pumas use a devious tactic of fertilizing plants that attract animals to hunting regions.

According to a brand-new Panthera study that was recently published in Landscape Ecology, pumas may employ a covert hunting tactic known as “garden to hunt,” in which the puma kills to fertilize or deposit nutrients in soil that increase plant quality and attract ungulates to feed in a specific habitat that is conducive to future stalk-and-ambush puma hunting. This information was discovered by the researchers.

Decomposing ungulate carcasses deposit high levels of nitrogen, carbon, and other valuable elements that enhance the chemistry and nutrient makeup of soil and plants in a fascinating cycle of foraging for both pumas and their prey. Given that ungulates, like elk, prefer food that is high in nitrogen, these changes may even affect where ungulates gather to eat and gather to congregate. Pumas are creating nutrient-rich hotspots that may continue to improve their future hunting success over time because they only hunt in areas that give them an advantage.

“Each study and peep into the secret life of pumas reveals that their behaviors and contributions to nature are far more intricate than believed. Every day, pumas donate over a million kg of meat to ecosystems, enhancing soil and plant life quality, feeding hundreds of species, and maintaining the health of their ecosystems and the wider web of life on our planet.”

Panthera Puma Director, Dr. Mark Elbroch,

Scientists also estimated that a dozen pumas produced over 100,000 kilograms of carrion per year, which is equivalent to the weight of the blue whale, the largest animal in the world. This was a remarkable discovery. Each puma was estimated to have created 482 temporary hotspots of nutrient-rich soil over its nine-year lifespan.

“Each study and glimpse into the secret lives of pumas reveals that their behaviors and contributions to nature are far more complex than imagined,” stated Panthera Puma Director Dr. Mark Elbroch. Every day, pumas add over a million kilograms of meat to ecosystems, which improves the quality of soil and plant life, provides food for hundreds of species, and supports the health of their ecosystems and the entire web of life on our planet.

Elbroch continued, “These findings yet again demonstrate the value and need to conserve the Americas’ pumas to those who care for the well-being of wildlife and the wild habitats sustaining all living beings.”

In order to collect and analyze 1,007 soil samples from 172 ungulate carcasses and 130 plant samples from 65 locations, scientists pinpointed the locations of GPS-collared pumas in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Researchers discovered that kills were concentrated in a small portion of habitat (4%), favoring pumas’ preferred stalk-and-ambush strategy, in addition to increased nutrients in soil and plant samples.

The species was found to be more likely to kill in habitats with high tree canopies, low elevations, steeper slopes, and close proximity to roads, streams, and forest edges. Deciduous forest, mixed forest, grassland, shrub-steppe, and riparian terrain were the top choices for pumas to hunt in.

From bottom to top, puma kills’ distribution of nutrients has an effect on the functioning of ecosystems as a whole, including affecting the diversity and chemistry of soil and plants; the variety and distribution of invertebrates; and the composition of communities of wildlife scavengers like foxes.

Panthera and Defenders of Wildlife published a study last year that showed that pumas play an important role in keeping ecosystems together in the Western Hemisphere by maintaining relationships with 485 different living species. Panthera and collaborators previously discovered that pumas serve as ecosystem engineers and provide habitat and food for 215 beetle species.

Pumas, in contrast to other carnivores like gray wolves, which decompose their prey, are highly susceptible to kleptoparasitism, or the stealing of their prey. Because of this, pumas provide a disproportionate amount of food for other wildlife. On average, pumas consume about a third of the weight of their prey, while the remaining portion supports various scavengers, flora, and fauna.

Although pumas can be found in 28 different countries in the Americas, little is known about them, and it is believed that their population is declining. The species is elusive and frequently misunderstood as a vicious, solitary predator, leading to persecution and the escalation of conflict between humans and pumas.

Pumas are in danger in the United States due to habitat loss, road mortality, and disease; legal hunting has a greater impact on some populations. The species is threatened in Latin America by illegal hunting as well as retaliatory slaughter by ranchers over livestock and prey loss.

Pumas, also known as cougars or mountain lions, are protected by Panthera’s Puma Program in western Washington state, the East Bay of California, and the Chilean region surrounding Torres del Paine National Park. Conflict resolution, education, research into puma prey selection, livestock predation, competition with other carnivores, and the effects of wolves brought back into the puma’s range are all part of the program’s activities.

More information: Michelle Peziol et al, Large carnivore foraging contributes to heterogeneity in nutrient cycling, Landscape Ecology (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s10980-023-01630-0

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