Cougars "fertilize" the soil to attract more herbivorous prey

Researchers from Washington State University and the Panthera Corporation

) studied the hunting strategy of pumas.The analysis showed that these animals create a “garden for hunting.” They deposit nutrients into the soil in a specific hunting location to improve the quality of plants and attract artiodactyls to feed.

Researchers used to analyze animals,living in the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park. With the help of a GPS collar, they tracked the habitats, hunting and feeding of cougars. The scientists then collected and analyzed 1,007 soil samples and 130 plant samples from 65 locations.

The analysis showed that in the places where they huntedcougars, there is an increased content of nutrients in the soil and plant samples. In addition, the researchers found that the animals used only 4% of their habitat for hunting. Cougars' "hunting grounds" were concentrated in areas with high treetops, low elevations, steeper slopes, and areas close to forest edges, roads, and streams.

Nutrient cycling in the "hunting grounds" of cougars. Image: Michelle Peziol et al., Landscape Ecology

Unlike other predators such as graywolves that dismember their prey, cougars keep the carrion intact, while they themselves consume no more than a third of the total weight of the prey. Decaying artiodactyl carcasses release elevated levels of nitrogen, carbon and other elements that improve soil and plant chemistry and nutrition.

These changes may affect whereartiodactyls such as moose gather and feed based on their preference for nitrogen-rich foods. Because cougars only hunt in select areas, they create nutrient-rich territories. Scientists have calculated that a dozen cougars produce more than 100 tons of carrion per year, which is equivalent to the mass of the world's largest animal, the blue whale. It is estimated that each cougar has created approximately 482 temporary patches of nutrient-rich soil over its nine years of life.

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