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Keywords:

  • Florida panther;
  • habitat models;
  • Puma concolor;
  • radiotelemetry;
  • reintroduction;
  • south Florida;
  • southeastern United States

Abstract: A major objective of the 1995 Florida Panther (Puma concolor cory) Recovery Plan is the establishment of 2 additional panther populations within the historic range. Our goal was to identify prospective sites for Florida panther reintroduction within the historic range based on quantitative landscape assessments. First, we delineated 86 panther home ranges using telemetry data collected from 1981 to 2001 in south Florida to develop a Mahalanobis distance (D2) habitat model, using 4 anthropogenic variables and 3 landscape variables mapped at a 500-m resolution. From that analysis, we identified 9 potential reintroduction sites of sufficient size to support a panther population. We then developed a similar D2 model at a higher spatial resolution to quantify the area of favorable panther habitat at each site. To address potential for the population to expand, we calculated the amount of favorable habitat adjacent to each prospective reintroduction site within a range of dispersal distances of female panthers. We then added those totals to the contiguous patches to estimate the total amount of effective panther habitat at each site. Finally, we developed an expert-assisted model to rank and incorporate potentially important habitat variables that were not appropriate for our empirical analysis (e.g., area of public lands, livestock density). Anthropogenic factors heavily influenced both the landscape and the expert-assisted models. Of the 9 areas we identified, the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Ozark National Forest, and Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge regions had the highest combination of effective habitat area and expert opinion scores. Sensitivity analyses indicated that variability among key model parameters did not affect the high ranking of those sites. Those sites should be considered as starting points for the field evaluation of potential reintroduction sites.