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Satellite Imagery Used To Better Predict Mountain Lion, Mule Deer, Human Habitat Overlap

Adult mountain lion, beige and brown in color stands on top of a rock with a forested background.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Satellite imagery gathered by NASA from outer space is being used to help predict where and how many mule deer and mountain lions could be migrating near urban areas, increasing the potential for wildlife-human interactions.

David Stoner is a researcher in the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University. He's working with a group of wildlife scientists to incorporate satellite imagery and animal population data to study the movement of mule deer and mountain lions in Utah, Colorado and Nevada.  It is believed the findings will show a correlation between plant growth and how that impacts the population in a given area.

"Now mule deer are the main prey item for mountain lion. So mountain lions, their abundance is tracking variation in the abundance of their food resource," Stoner said. 

Through this same satellite imagery, Stoner and his collaborators tracked precipitation and temperature changes to determine the effects of predicted climatic shifts and possible impacts on wildlife habitat.

"Here in the Southwest, the best projections are that we’re going to see increasing aridity so what we have now will become more drier and warmer," said Stoner.

The research also measures how human migration and land use changes impact animal populations.

"The whole Southwest are the fastest growing region of the country, more people moving in and this prompts more land use change," Stoner said. "The conversion of wildland into urban or agriculture roads and so imagine these two factors combined. A more stressful environment with a more fragmented environment. So this equates to more interactions between humans and wildlife."

Ultimately, Stoner says these findings could help state land managers prepare the public for increased interactions with wildlife in residential areas and help could be used to direct programs to prevent road collisions involving wildlife, for example.

The full article by Stoner and his collaborators in the scientific journal Global Change Biology can be found here