Characteristics of successful puma kill sites of elk in the Black Hills, South Dakota

Chadwick P. Lehman, Christopher T. Rota, Mark A. Rumble, Joshua J. Millspaugh

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Elk Cervus canadensis nelsoni in the Black Hills, South Dakota, have been declining since 2006 and there is concern by resource managers and hunters that puma Puma concolor predation may be contributing to declining herds. We evaluated characteristics at sites where puma successfully killed elk in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We evaluated characteristics at coarse (79-ha plots) and fine (0.2-ha plot) scales across the landscape. Our primary objective was to obtain a better understanding of vegetation and terrain characteristics that may have facilitated greater susceptibility of elk to predation by puma. We evaluated effects of road density, terrain heterogeneity, probability of elk use, and vegetation variables at 62 puma kill sites of elk and 186 random sites to identify key landscape attributes where elk were killed by puma. Elk were killed by puma in high use areas. Elk were also killed in areas that had greater amounts of edge and intermediate ruggedness at the coarse scale. Further, elk were killed in areas with greater small tree density and woody debris at the fine scale. High germination rates of ponderosa pine trees are unique to the Black Hills and provide dense patches of cover for puma. We hypothesize that cover from small trees and woody debris provided conditions where puma could stalk elk in areas with optimal security cover for elk. We suggest managers implement vegetation management practices that reduce small tree density and woody debris in areas with greater density of meadow-forest edge if they are interested in potentially diminishing hiding cover for puma in elk high use areas.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberwlb.00248
JournalWildlife Biology
StatePublished - 2017


The U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, the University of Missouri and West Virginia University.

FundersFunder number
U.S. Forest Service-Retired
Southeast Missouri State University
West Virginia State University


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