I currently live in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a fairly rural place, so I often see deer, coyotes, and bobcats. Lately, my dog has decided that coyote chasing is a fun activity. I do not agree. Luckily, she always comes running back to the front door, unharmed and happy with her pursuit. I’m not sure if my fear is warranted, as the few times I’ve seen her face to face with the coyote, it pays her no attention- it’s my dog that’s disturbing ITS behavior. Obviously, I need to control my dog, not the coyote.
As it turns out, this is no longer an issue reserved just for the rural community- carnivores are thriving in cities as well. Bateman and Flemming just published a paper in the Journal of Zoology showing that mid-sized carnivores, like coyotes, red-foxes, raccoons, and badgers tend to do well in urban areas- taking advantage of increased food sources, like rats attracted to our food, as well as human-constructed shelter, like canals and urban gardens. Even bears are doing okay in suburban areas. The study also reviewed how living in urban environments may change the behavior of these animals. For instance, the abundant food in urban areas might decrease competition between, say, red foxes, and therefore lead them to be less aggressive and less territorial.
Importantly, the paper also discusses those predators that have not adapted so well to human settlements. Mountain lions, or pumas, are still mostly found in rural and natural areas. Researchers suggest that this is because of the puma’s large body size, need for large territories, and because of their larger prey (like deer). The Santa Cruz Puma Project and the Wilmer’s lab at the University of California Santa Cruz (my school :)) seeks to understanding how pumas behave in human dominated areas, specifically how habitat fragmentation, caused by houses and other buildings, impacts the predators.
The authors make a great point about the importance of this kind of work for conservation: as sub/urban areas increase and as carnivores continue to overlap with human areas (or, alternatively, as we overlap with carnivore areas), we need to understand what kinds of carnivores thrive in urban areas as well as how they thrive in order to conserve these new populations. In other words, to learn how we humans can share the space a little better- like creating corridors, vegetated highway overpasses, reducing pesticide and poison use…..And maybe leashing our dogs and cats.