Influence of biotic interactions on the distribution of Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) at the southern edge of their range

Arthur E Scully, Scott Fisher, David A W Miller, Daniel H Thornton

The persistence of cold-adapted species along their equatorial range edge (i.e., southern range edge for species in the Northern Hemisphere and northern range edge for species in the Southern Hemisphere) is threatened by climate change. These species will be challenged not just by unfavorable climatic regimes, but also by changing biotic interactions, which may be more intense along equatorial edges. However, we currently have a poor understanding of the nature of biotic interactions at range edges and how climate may mediate those interactions, particularly for cold-adapted mammals. We studied the distribution of threatened Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) at their southern range edge in northern Washington, United States from 2014 to 2016. Using data collected from 397 camera-trap stations in snow-on and snow-off seasons, and single- and 2-species occupancy models, we investigated seasonal patterns of habitat selection and spatial association of lynx with their primary prey (snowshoe hares, Lepus americanus) and potential competitors (bobcats, Lynx rufus; cougars, Puma concolor). Single-species occupancy models revealed lynx distribution was strongly associated with snowshoe hare abundance and topographic variables related to lower temperatures and increased moisture. In contrast, bobcats and cougars were more generalized in their habitat associations or displayed the reverse response to environmental variables. Spatial overlap of the 3 felid species increased during snow-off seasons. Two-species occupancy models showed a decrease in use of camera sites by lynx when bobcats were present, suggesting lynx were avoiding their warm-adapted competitor. Taken together, these results suggest that biotic interactions are partly shaping large-scale lynx distribution patterns along their southern range edge. Increasing temperatures and loss of snow may result in a combination of habitat isolation and potential for increased competitive interactions for lynx at the margins of their range.

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Arthur E Scully, Scott Fisher, David A W Miller, Daniel H Thornton. 2018. Influence of biotic interactions on the distribution of Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) at the southern edge of their range. Journal of Mammalogy 99(4):760-772.