Bobcat Distribution and Gene Flow in Tucson: Integrating Public Outreach and Conservation Genetics
Many Tucsonans living at the edge of town may have, at one time or another, looked out their back window and been suprised to see a bobcat in their backyard. These sitings led us to some questions: Are bobcats accomplished city dwellers? How does life in the city, with all its hazards, affect bobcat well-being? Can the public help answer these questions?
Map bobcat sitings using photographs solicited from the public.
Describe gene flow by collecting and analyizing samples from scat (feces) and incidental roadkill. If sub-populations of bobcats exist, determine potential barriers to the movement of bobcats and gene flow.
Educate the public about bobcats and engage them in the project as citizen scientists.
In this project, we are conducting a genetic assessment for bobcats in the Tucson area. We feel it is important to establish a genetic baseline for bobcats in Tucson as soon as possible. This information can show us if movement corridors exist or where there may be barriers to gene flow. Pima County is developing a remarkable, biologically-based land use plan, known as the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which provides landscape linkages and corridors for wildlife. Results from this project will be valuable to this planning effort.
Also on a landscape scale, information is needed regarding the distribution of bobcats across the Tucson basin. Bobcats are frequently reported in the suburban foothills surrounding the city, but we do not know the extent to which they can tolerate higher human densities. Are they moving though the downtown area? Across the Interstate? This study should answer those questions.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Bobcats exist in the urban areas of Tucson, Arizona and its surrounding wildlands, and play an integral role in the biologically rich Sonoran Desert ecosystem. However, Tucson is facing rapid urbanization. Pima County is one of the fastest growing counties in the U.S., losing one acre of desert every two hours to sprawl and development.
Bobcats seem to be benefit from prey, water, and cover associated with landscaping and human structures next to native desert habitat. It is important we understand enough about bobcats in this setting to ensure they continue to exist, and co-exist, successfully with humans in Tucson.
This study seeks a non-invasive way to help us best protect bobcats... by knowing where they prefer to live and travel and helping them continue to co-exist with people in our shared environment. The information gathered in this study will be used to help wildlife managers and city planners make the best decisions they can for bobcats.