Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Wildlife Biology

Department or School/College


Committee Chair

Hugh S. Robinson

Committee Co-chair

Michael Mitchell

Commitee Members

Paul Lukacs, Katherine Zeller, Paul Beier, Mark Elbroch


Habitat selection, random forest, landscape ecology, resource selection function, population estimation


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Population Biology | Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology


The relationship between habitat quality and density is well documented in lower trophic levels but to what extent it can be extended to higher trophic levels is unknown. I tested the relationship between habitat quality, home-range size and density using a wide-ranging, well-studied, top carnivore, the mountain lion (Puma concolor). First, I created a second-order resource selection function (RSF) for mountain lions in their current North American range using GPS collar data from 476 individuals in 20 study sites and remotely-sensed landscape data. I used the RSF and home range estimates derived from collared animals to quantify mountain lion habitat and possible densities across North America. Secondly, I explored the relationship of the RSF model, home-range size, and density based on 142 published density estimates toward the goal of testing the justification and/or limitations of using RSF models to project population densities. In addition, I tested whether ‘top-down’ influences such as presence of bears, wolves or human hunting improved the model’s ability to predict local densities. I found strong support for habitat quality driving mountain lion densities as shown by the relationship between the RSF and home range size. I found additional support for habitat quality driving densities in the relationship between the RSF and reference densities. I did not find support for my hypotheses that top-down factors negatively impacted mountain lion densities which may be due to the high variance in traditional density estimation methods.



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