The Mountain Lion’s Ecological Role

Ecology is a branch of biology which studies the interactions of organisms and their environment. One of the primary objectives of ecology is to “understand the distribution and abundance of living things in the physical environment.” Mountain lions (Puma concolor), researchers are learning, fulfill an important ecological role that ultimately improves ecosystem health and increases biodiversity.

How do mountain lions help plant biodiversity? Well, these stealthy predators keep deer and other herbivores in check so that they don’t overgraze an area. Their presence alone keeps herbivores on the move, so they don’t eat all of the vegetation in one particular spot. This is beneficial to plants, especially the tastiest of morsels that are preferred and targeted by various herbivores. When a mountain lion leaves a carcass behind, it decomposes, providing vegetation with beneficial nutrients as well!

When a mountain lion makes a kill, they provide a meal for a wide variety of scavengers including bobcats, coyotes, ravens and many more. The leftovers from a lion’s dinner provides necessary food for other wildlife, especially when times are lean! These scraps can help other species survive when times are tough.

Mountain lions, as it turns out, are keystone species. But what is that exactly? These are species that other species in an ecosystem rely on. If they are removed, the ecosystem would change considerably. What do you think would happen if mountain lions disappeared entirely? One thing is for sure. Ecosystems wouldn’t be nearly as resilient without them!

Want to know more? Click here to read the article published Nature!

Denise Peterson

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