Local Extinction of Southern California Mountain Lions Possible Within 50 Years

Female mountain lion P-13 near Malibu Creek State Park in March 2014. (National Park Service)
Female mountain lion P-13 near Malibu Creek State Park in March 2014. (National Park Service)

Two isolated mountain lion populations in Southern California’s Santa Ana and Santa Monica Mountains are at risk of local extinction, perhaps as soon as within 50 years, according to a study published in the journal Ecological Applications. 

The study showed the extinction risk is due to low genetic diversity and mortality that affects the stability of the population. Mountain lion mortality is often caused by humans, but can also result from  changes in the environment, such as wildfire and fluctuations in prey density.

The two mountain lion populations in the human-dominated landscape of Southern California are isolated by freeways and development. For the study, lead author John Benson of the University of Nebraska and co-authors at UCLA, the University of California, Davis, the National Park Service, the University of Washington, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Wyoming used population viability modeling to predict the possibilities of extinction from genetic and demographic risk factors. 

“It’s easy to read our paper as yet another pessimistic story about wildlife threatened by human actions — and in a sense that is true,” said Benson. “However, there is also a more optimistic message in that our model predicted that these populations can persist with relatively modest increases in landscape connectivity. If we can maintain healthy populations of mountain lions — a species that roams widely and requires such large spaces — here in greater Los Angeles, that bodes well for our ability to conserve large carnivores anywhere.”

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