Colorado State Researcher Studies Effects of Urbanization on Bobcats in Southern California

A Colorado State University wildlife researcher is working with the U.S. Geological Survey and The Nature Conservancy to examine how and where wild bobcats are moving in Southern California by tracking their movements across the landscape with global positioning satellite, or GPS, collars.

As homes, roads and businesses continue to expand in Southern California’s Orange County, wildlife habitat keeps shrinking while scientists study the effects of urbanization on bobcats.

In California, researchers outfit bobcats with GPS tracking collars that continuously track movement and automatically drop off the cats within six months of being activated. Researchers will examine the data gathered by the collars and study bobcat movement. Scientists are particularly interested in learning if bobcats favor certain wildlife corridors and identifying popular paths in which bobcats cross beneath busy roads and highways.

Kevin Crooks, a Colorado State wildlife researcher, spent years studying carnivores’ habitats in Southern California and found that bobcats are an excellent indicator for the degree of habitat fragmentation in urban landscapes.  

"My research has revealed that bobcat populations decline and disappear as landscapes become increasingly fragmented, which happens when habitat fragments immersed within urban areas become too small or too isolated," Crooks said.  

It will be several more months before researchers will be able to fully analyze the GPS tracking data. However, early results reveal that bobcats are living closer to urban communities than previously thought and are exposed to a variety of mortality risks, including being hit by cars.

According to Crooks, the results of the study will be useful in promoting the conservation of bobcats not just in southern California, but other urbanizing areas as well.

"Similar to Southern California, Colorado’s Front Range is experiencing rapid growth and development, and by studying the effects of urban sprawl on wildlife in California, we can better understand and predict how animals will be affected by such processes in Colorado," Crooks said.