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Assessing the distribution, abundances, and ecology of bobcats (Lynx rufus) in Oklahoma

Proudman, Nathan James
Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are elusive meso-carnivores that are often difficult to study and monitor. Finding a suitable alternative monitoring method, that is independent of fur harvest data, can be useful for their management in Oklahoma. In a project aimed at assessing the distribution, abundances, and ecologies of bobcats, their sympatric meso-carnivores, and their prey in Oklahoma, we deployed a combination of hair-snare cubbies, camera traps, and Sherman live-traps, whilst assessing the efficacy of the hair-snare cubby design as a bobcat monitoring tool. We recruited > 60 wildlife students as citizen scientists, who deployed hair-snare cubbies across the state during Dec – Jan 2018/19 – 2020/21 in a large-scale occupancy study, and deployed 120 hair-snare cubbies and camera traps during Jan – Mar of 2019 – 2021, within three areas of interest that represented distinct ecoregions of the state, in a capture-recapture study. We also deployed Sherman live-trap transects at these study sites Mar – May of 2020 – 2021 to quantify and characterise small mammal prey communities. We found historic harvest rates and environmental variables to be important predictors for bobcat occupancies, but models suffered from high degrees of error. Morphological and genetic identification of hairs proved difficult, with camera traps outperforming hair-snare cubbies and providing the necessary data for density estimation. We found a high degree of spatial, temporal, and spatio-temporal overlap among sympatric meso-carnivores, but bobcats were largely asynchronous temporally with rabbits, with coyotes showing positive spatio-temporal association with bobcats that was nonreciprocal (with even weak evidence to support avoidance of coyotes by bobcats), overriding the presumed effects of using bobcat scent lure in the hair-snare cubbies. We found little differences in the small mammal abundances among study sites but found large differences among habitat types and regrowth levels after prescribed burns. Peromyscus spp. dominated captures, especially at our southwestern study site, where small mammal diversity was low. Our results elucidate some interesting relationships between bobcats and their conspecifics, demonstrate the utility of using wildlife students as citizen scientists, but show hair-snare cubbies may be less effective than camera traps at monitoring bobcats under conditions similar to those in our study.