Bobbing for Bobcats

Catherine Sirgo wrote this post as a part Dr. Stacy Krueger-Hadfield’s Science Communication course at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Catherine is a Master’s Candidate within Dr. Thane Wibbels’ lab researching conservation for the Mississippi Diamondback Terrapin in Alabama. Catherine earned a B.S. in Biological Science from Louisiana State University.

What’s the first thing that pops in your head when you think Bobcats?

Their stumpy tails?

Their screams when fighting? 

Did you know that that they are important predators whose population statuses are used as indicators for functional landscape connectivity in their areas?

Photo attributed to Conrad Fijetland

In Southern California, the Bobcat (Lynx rufus) is the third-largest carnivore that is regarded as a habitat generalist. While Bobcats prefer to stick to less developed areas, they will live in more urbanized areas. However, urbanization contributes to habitat fragmentation that breaks up connection between patches of habitats.

Kozakiewicz et al. (2019) wanted to find out how factors that influence the connectivity of populations will vary based on spatial scale and the patch-specific landscape in which the population is found. To do this, they obtained both blood and tissue samples that had been gathered by previous studies and collected in three separate areas of southern California: San Diego, Northwest Los Angeles (LA), and Southeast LA (Kozakiewicz et al. 2019).

Map of Southern California

Kozakiewicz et al. (2019) considered genetic relatedness between individuals in different populations to be a sign of gene flow, or the flow of genetic information between populations of the same species. Based on this assumption, the researchers measured the genetic differences between pairs of individuals within the populations across the region studied. This allowed them to quantify how the populations varied in their connectivity. 

The results of these analyses showed that Bobcat populations living within less urbanized areas (with fewer roads, and more streams and vegetation) had the highest allelic richness (the number of variations of genes), larger populations in relation to geographic area, and the highest rate of gene flow (Kozakiewiczet al. 2019).  

By living in areas with less urbanization, the Bobcat populations in those areas have higher genetic diversity as well as increased gene flow. In contrast, Bobcats living in areas that are urbanized, therefore containing less habitat, had less gene flow. 

We should be worried about the fate of the Bobcat populations in Southern California, but what about other indicator species? With increased urbanization and consequent habitat fragmentation, smaller and smaller suitable habitats are available. More studies need to be conducted to see how urbanization affects other species. Kozakiewicz et al. (2019) gives us evidence of how our rapidly expanding way of life is affecting wonderful and weird species like the Bobcat and that we need change it before it’s too late. 

So next time you see a video of two Bobcats screaming at each other, you may think about how important this wonderful and weird species is and how we need to do more to make sure they can keep screaming for years to come. 

References

Kozakiewicz, CP, Burridge, CP, Funk, WC, et al. Urbanization reduces genetic connectivity in bobcats (Lynx rufus) at both intra– and interpopulation spatial scales. Mol Ecol. 2019; 28: 5068– 5085.

About Stacy Krueger-Hadfield

I am a marine evolutionary ecologist interested in the impacts of seascapes and complex life cycles on marine population dynamics. I use natural history, manipulative field experiments and population genetic and genomic approaches with algal and invertebrate models in temperate rocky shores,estuaries and the open ocean.
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