Recolonizing cougars in the Great Lakes region, USA
Around the world, large carnivores have lost massive portions of their historical ranges because of habitat loss, decreasing prey populations, persecution by humans, and overharvest. However, these declines can be reversed, and as a consequence of recent management, a number of populations are recovering. Cougars (Puma concolor) have lost over 35% of their historical range throughout North America. The only currently documented breeding population of cougars in the eastern United States is in Florida. In contrast, cougar range in the western United States has expanded since the 1960s, and populations have reestablished in states where they occurred historically. Recently reestablished populations on the eastern edge of western cougar range, such as in North Dakota and South Dakota, can act as potential sources of further cougar dispersal. Specifically, the Great Lakes region will likely be an important area for cougar range expansion into the Midwest and Eastern USA. We used verified cougar sighting locations to model and predict large-scale landscape suitability and connectivity in the Great Lakes region. We compiled all state natural resource agency confirmed sighting reports of cougars from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin from 2010-2020. We used these reports to develop a model of landscape suitability for cougars throughout this region.