Barriers to Mountain Lion Movement

The field of movement ecology, particularly as it applies to mountain lions, is becoming critically important during a time of ever-increasing human development. Mountain lions are particularly affected by urbanization as their population structures require young adults to disperse long distances (hundreds of miles) in search of a new territory of their own. With dangerous blockades like freeways and cities blocking their ways, mountain lions too often are killed by our hand.

Human-built structures like suburban sprawls, roads, highways, and farms create barriers to movement for almost all wildlife, interrupting natural processes such as gene flow and the nutrient cycle. In their attempts to get across, around, or through those barriers, mountain lions are often killed by cars, trigger-happy individuals, and wildlife departments.

When it’s hard to get out of an area hemmed in on multiple sides by human development, gene flow is restricted. This means the same genes stay within the local population and no new ones are introduced by immigrating individuals (nor do any move out); because of this, inbreeding can be more common, resulting in potentially harmful genetic mutations.

Researchers across the country are developing methods to evaluate corridors, or natural pathways, to mountain lion movement within the species’ range as it attempts to reclaim its eastern range. Preserving contiguous tracts of land to promote mountain lion (and other wildlife) movement will help keep subpopulations healthy and diverse!

Aaron Huelsman

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