Surviving in steep terrain: a lab-to-field assessment of locomotor costs for wild mountain lions (Puma concolor)

Carolyn E. Dunford, Nikki J. Marks, Christopher C. Wilmers, Caleb M. Bryce, Barry Nickel, Lisa L. Wolfe, D. Michael Scantlebury*, Terrie M. Williams

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
53 Downloads (Pure)


Under current scenarios of climate change and habitat loss, many wild animals, especially large predators, are moving into novel energetically challenging environments. Consequently, changes in terrain associated with such moves may heighten energetic costs and effect the decline of populations in new localities.
To examine locomotor costs of a large carnivorous mammal moving in mountainous habitats, the oxygen consumption of captive pumas (Puma concolor) was measured during treadmill locomotion on level and incline (6.8°) surfaces. These data were used to predict energetic costs of locomotor behaviours of free-ranging pumas equipped with GPS/accelerometer collars in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains.
Incline walking resulted in a 42.0% ± 7.2 SEM increase in the costs of transport compared to level performance. Pumas negotiated steep terrain by traversing across hillsides (mean hill incline 17.2° ± 0.3 SEM; mean path incline 7.3° ± 0.1 SEM). Pumas also walked more slowly up steeper paths, thereby minimizing the energetic impact of vertical terrains. Estimated daily energy expenditure (DEE) based on GPS-derived speeds of free-ranging pumas was 18.3 MJ day− 1 ± 0.2 SEM. Calculations show that a 20 degree increase in mean steepness of the terrain would increase puma DEE by less than 1% as they only spend a small proportion (10%) of their day travelling. They also avoided elevated costs by utilizing slower speeds and shallower path angles.
While many factors influence survival in novel habitats, we illustrate the importance of behaviours which reduce locomotor costs when traversing new, energetically challenging environments, and demonstrate that these behaviours are utilised by pumas in the wild.
Original languageEnglish
Article number34
Number of pages12
JournalMovement Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 08 Aug 2020


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