Abstract

Worldwide big cats are at risk of extinction, and anthropogenic factors and natural habitat disturbances represent the biggest threats for their survival. It is essential to know the natural resources use by these predators and the way these big felids adapt to changes. It is unknown how the puma (Puma concolor) selects and uses resources, and what environmental factors determine its presence and how this species is affected by natural disturbances in Mexican tropical forests. This study was performed in the El Eden ecological reserve and surroundings, in the North of Quintana Roo, Mexico, an area dominated by tropical semideciduous (medium forest) and secondary forest (acahual). Camera samplings were carried out during 2008, and from 2010 to 2012. Habitat variables, activity patterns and species associations were also spatially and temporally analyzed using a chi-squared test and overlapping coefficients. General Linear Models (GLM) were used in order to determine which variables influence the presence of cougars in the study area. Cougars used vegetation and paths in different proportions as the availability of these resources. The years with more changes (P < 0.05) were 2008 and 2011. This predator was active throughout the day, but changed its activity patterns over the years. The cougar was spatio-temporally associated with six mammals and two big terrestrial birds: Pecari tajacu ( = 0.52), Meleagris ocellata (= 0.55), Crax rubra (= 0.58), Didelphis sp. (∆ = 0.64), Mazama temama (= 0.66), Leopardus pardalis (= 0.68), Dasypus novemcinctus ( = 0.73) and Panthera onca (= 0.87). After testing 90 GLM models, the model with a lower AIC value described the activity patterns of prey and co-predators. The vegetation and water in the reserve were important variables for the cougar. However the variables that determined and modified the presence of the species were activity patterns of co-predators and the potential preys. The factors that negatively affected the presence of the species were fire, human presence, and habitat displacement to less favorable habitats to avoid jaguar.

Keywords: acahual, activity patterns, associated species, cougar, environmental variables, fair, human effect, tropical semideciduous forests