Pumas adapt behaviour to save energy for mountain survival: Study

Finding important as many top predators are being forced to move into areas where they have to expend more energy to travel

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 20 August 2020

Pumas, also known as mountain lions or cougars, have an ability to assess their surrounding terrain and accordingly use a suitable walking gait to conserve energy, a new study has shown.

The cats travel more slowly while ascending or descending mountains to conserve energy, the new study conducted by Queen’s University in Belfast, UK,has found.

This, a press statement by the university said, was important as many top predators were having to move into what it termed ‘energetically challenging environments’ as the areas they usually inhabited were being occupied by humans.

The areas that these animals move into, force them to use more energy and cause declines in their populations.

The puma is the top feline predator in the Americas, along with the jaguar. However, its native range is diminishing due to increasing agriculture and urbanisation. Puma habitat in California is predicted to diminish 35 per cent by 2030. Road collisions, fires and poaching of their wild prey are other threats.

As a result, the animals are being forced to move into ‘the steepest and most energetically costly mountainous parts of their range’, the statement by Queen’s University, said.

The team had set out to find how the cats coped with the high energy demand of consistently travelling and hunting in steep terrains. They then extended their research target to finding out as to how the animals would cope if they were isolated to these areas.

They tested captive pumas by making them walk on a treadmill and measuring their oxygen consumption while walking on the level and on an incline.

The researchers also equipped wild pumas in California’s Santa Cruz mountains with GPS and accelerometers. This allowed them to calculate how the cats used their energy each day while moving through steep areas.

Even a relatively shallow incline of 6.8 degrees increased the pumas’ energy use by over 40 per cent, the results of the study showed.

The researchers also found that pumas traversed hillsides to decrease the angle that they climb and travelled much more slowly when climbing, thus conserving their energy. The animals spent much of their time resting (60 per cent) and less than 10 per cent of the day travelling, further conserving their energy.

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