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Mississippi State University

Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

Home Range and Habitat Use


Results

We used 58 (20 male, 38 female) adult bobcats to determine home range, core use areas, and seasonal habitat selection. We estimated 258 home ranges and core areas and home range size differed between sexes (P <0.001) with males having larger home ranges than females. However, home range size did not differ across seasons (P = 0.321). Likewise, core area size differed between sexes (P <0.001) with males having larger core areas than females, but did not differ across seasons (P = 0.738). Selection of habitats when establishing home ranges differed between sexes (P = 0.009). Male home ranges contained greater proportions of mature pine habitats, whereas female home ranges consistently contained greater proportions of 0-8-year-old pine habitats. When establishing core areas, habitat composition did not differ among seasons (P = 0.721) or between sexes (P = 0.393) indicating that bobcat core area selection was similar between males and females across seasons. Male and female core areas contained greater proportions of 0-8-year-old pine habitats compared to other habitats within the home range. Habitats used within home ranges did not differ among seasons (P = 0.199), but did between sexes (P = 0.024). Male bobcats used 16-29-year-old pine and "other" habitats least, whereas all other habitats were used similar to availability within their home range. Similar to males, females used 16-29-year-old pine and "other" habitats least, whereas 0-8-year-old pine habitats were most used.

Summary

Bobcats are sexually dimorphic, with males generally larger than females, and they use a polygynous mating system. Thus, males would be expected to maintain larger home ranges to acquire necessary resources and increase mating opportunities. Likewise, uniparental care exhibited by females could result in decreased home ranges during kitten-rearing periods. Our data indicate that male bobcats maintain larger home ranges than females on TWMA, consistent with findings of other researchers. However, we rejected the hypothesis that home range and core area sizes would differ seasonally, suggesting that the area maintained by bobcats to acquire requisite resources was similar across seasons.

Pine Plantation on Tallahala Wildlife Management Area

The presence of 0-8 year-old pine stands influenced placement of core areas for both male and female bobcats. Previous studies have reported preferences for early successional habitats due to increasing prey in these habitats, and relative abundance of small mammals and other bobcat prey is high in these habitats on TWMA. These young pine stands likely provide high quality hunting habitat for bobcats. Male bobcats may establish core areas that overlap female core areas, presumably to maximize mating opportunities. Also, core areas may contain features such as den sites or escape cover that are important to bobcats. These points suggest that selection of core areas and habitats contained within these areas is a synergistic function of increasing hunting opportunities, breeding behavior, and the location of sites important in ecological strategies of both sexes.

Previous studies have suggested that bobcats select habitats because of prey abundance. In fact, male bobcats often select larger prey than females. Thus, it was not surprising that males and females used habitats within home ranges differently on TWMA. However, bobcats did not use habitats differently across seasons. Seasonal changes in habitat use in other areas of bobcat range may be due to shifts in prey abundance, climate, or behavior, such as the onset of breeding behavior. In northern latitudes, bobcats may shift prey selection from small mammals in summer to larger prey in winter, when availability of small mammals declines. However, occurrence of small mammals in bobcat diet on TWMA does not vary seasonally, suggesting that bobcats prey consistently on small mammals annually. Lagomorphs, small mammals, and white-tailed deer are dominant prey of bobcats on TWMA and GP. The availability and abundance of these prey likely do not vary seasonally to the magnitude of that observed at northern latitudes, resulting in less variation in seasonal habitat selection.

Prescribed Burn of Mature Pine Stand

Mature pine stands were important to bobcats at multiple spatial scales. Mature pine stands thinned and burned for red-cockaded woodpecker management contain greater herbaceous vegetation relative to other stands and produce abundant bobcat prey. Additionally, small mammal abundance was high in mature pine stands compared to other habitat types on TWMA, thus it is no surprising that bobcats used these habitats.

Management Implications

Other studies in the southeastern United States have indicated the importance of early successional habitats to bobcats. Our data suggest that the selection of 0-8 year-old pine stands differs between sexes, with females selecting these habitats at all spatial scales, whereas these habitats appeared most important to males when selecting core areas. We suggest that the presence of mature habitats (pine and hardwood) within female home ranges and core areas is important. We suggest managers interested in maintaining bobcat populations recognize the importance of early successional pine, as well as mature pine and bottomland hardwood habitats, in bobcat habitat selection. Current forest management strategies used on TWMA and GP appear to benefit bobcats, as stand rotation maintains habitats selected by bobcats across the landscape.