• conservation surrogate;
  • cougar;
  • focal species;
  • landscape;
  • wolves


Large carnivores have been posited as potential conservation surrogates to inform the design and prioritization of conservation planning. We show that wolves Canis lupus and cougars Puma concolor may have potential to serve as a surrogate suite for conserving landscape heterogeneity, hypothesized to be a determinant of biodiversity in some landscapes. We examined habitat and landscape features associated with the spatial distribution of wolf- and cougar-killed prey in the basin of the North Fork of the Flathead River in Montana. The spatial distribution of wolf-killed prey was driven largely by cover type, whereas physiographic characteristics were the primary driver of the distribution of cougar-killed prey. Spatial templates, generated using >0.66 probability quantiles from spatially explicit models of kill site distribution, estimated over three times as much high-quality habitat for wolves (1005 km2) than for cougars (381 km2). While there were only minor differences in the proportional representation of land cover types between the wolf and cougar templates, 40% of the cougar template fell outside the wolf template, and the former contained over three times more rugged terrain than the latter. The use of a combined wolf–cougar spatial template resulted in a 15% increase in total area and 91% increase in the amount of rugged terrain identified. Based on our models, the advantage of using both wolves and cougars as a focal suite in north-west Montana is the ability to identify a greater area of high-quality habitat, and capture landscape heterogeneity that may be important to conserving biodiversity.