Assessment of Canada Lynx Research and Conservation Needs in the Southern Range: Another Kick at the Cat

  • Murray D
  • Steury T
  • Roth J
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Abstract

The ecology of Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) and their main prey, snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus), is poorly understood in southern Canada and the contiguous United States compared to the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska, USA, where both species are well studied. However, given recent listing of lynx under the Endangered Species Act, accurate understanding of lynx and snowshoe hare ecology and conservation requirements in the United States is a high priority. We critically examined unchallenged perceptions and important research needs related to lynx and hare ecology and conservation at the southern extent of their range. Contrary to popular dogma, lynx do not require old-growth forest for denning, but further research on lynx and hare use of fragmented landscapes at lower latitudes is required. The contention that southern lynx are subject to higher interference or exploitative competition compared to their northern counterparts remains without strong empirical support. Lynx rely more on red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) and possibly other alternate prey at lower latitudes, but hares are the predominant food type for lynx across their range. Southern lynx and hare populations do not exhibit periodic cyclicity, but harvest statistics suggest that lynx abundance in the southern range is highly variable, implying that numerical fluctuations likely are fueled by immigration from Canada. Southern lynx population viability in the absence of ingress is suspect and thus maintaining connectivity with northern areas of occupancy should be a priority. Successful conservation of lynx populations in the contiguous United States will require 1) improved understanding of lynx population and habitat ecology at lower latitudes, 2) protection and management of large tracts of lynx and snowshoe hare habitat, and 3) ensured connectivity between lynx populations at the core and periphery of the species' range. However, in light of the numerous challenges facing conservation of populations of many species at their southern distributional limit, the long-term prognosis for lynx in the southern range currently is uncertain.

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Authors

  • Dennis L. Murray

  • Todd D. Steury

  • James D. Roth

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