Lions’ Leftovers Eaten by Many Small Critters
What do Wyoming little/big critters eat?
“An incredible diversity of wildlife — from chickadees to grizzly bears — make use of cougar-killed carcasses that are distributed around the mountains and valleys of Jackson Hole.”
“Remote cameras left at carcass sites by the Teton Cougar Project over four years found that magpies and red foxes were by far the most common scavengers gleaning lion leftovers. But some 39 species were documented in total, a finding that surprised not only Cougar Project leader Mark Elbroch but the larger scientific community.”
“We documented a greater diversity of scavengers than any other study in the world to date,” Elbroch said.
A synthesis of the Cougar Project’s findings was published in the latest edition of the scientific journal Biological Conservation. Elbroch, Connor O’Malley, Michelle Peziol and Howard Quigley co-authored the study, titled “Vertebrate diversity benefiting from carrion provided by pumas and other subordinate, apex felids.”
Carrion promotes biodiversity and ecosystem stability, and large carnivores provide this resource throughout the year. In particular, apex felids subordinate to other carnivores contribute more carrion to ecological communities than other predators. We measured vertebrate scavenger diversity at puma (Puma concolor) kills in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and utilized a model-comparison approach to determine what variables influenced scavenger diversity (Shannon’s H) at carcasses. We documented the highest vertebrate scavenger diversity of any study to date (39 birds and mammals). Scavengers represented 10.9% of local birds and 28.3% of local mammals, emphasizing the diversity of food-web vectors supported by pumas, and the positive contributions of pumas and potentially other subordinate, apex felids to ecological stability. Scavenger diversity at carcasses was most influenced by the length of time the carcass was sampled, and the biological variables, temperature and prey weight. Nevertheless, diversity was relatively consistent across carcasses. We also identified six additional stalk-and-ambush carnivores weighing > 20 kg, that feed on prey larger than themselves, and are subordinate to other predators. Together with pumas, these seven felids may provide distinctive ecological functions through their disproportionate production of carrion and subsequent contributions to biodiversity. We urge conservation managers to increase support for these species, as a means of prioritizing resources to best ensure the persistence of carrion in natural systems.
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Photo: American Marten by Price Chambers/JHNG.