• bias;
  • cluster sampling;
  • cougar;
  • Global Positioning System (GPS);
  • kill rate;
  • multicarnivore;
  • Puma concolor;
  • scavenging;
  • very high frequency (VHF);
  • Yellowstone National Park

ABSTRACT  We assessed whether use of 2 methods, intensive very high frequency (VHF) radiotelemetry and Global Positioning System (GPS) cluster sampling, yielded similar estimates of cougar (Puma concolor) kill rates in Yellowstone National Park, 1998–2005. We additionally determined biases (underestimation or overestimation of rates) resulting from each method. We used modeling to evaluate what characteristics of clusters best predicted a kill versus no kill and further evaluated which predictor(s) minimized effort and the number of missed kills. We conducted 16 VHF ground predation sequences resulting in 37 kill intervals (KIs) and 21 GPS sequences resulting in 84 KIs on 6 solitary adult females, 4 maternal females, and 5 adult males. Kill rates (days/kill and biomass [kg] killed/day) did not differ between VHF and GPS predation sampling methods for maternal females, solitary adult females, and adult males. Sixteen of 142 (11.3%) kills detected via GPS clusters were missed through VHF ground-based sampling, and the kill rate was underestimated by an average of 5.2 (95% CI = 3.8–6.6) days/kill over all cougar social classes. Five of 142 (3.5%) kills identified by GPS cluster sampling were incorrectly identified as the focal individual's kill from scavenging, and the kill rate was overestimated within the adult male social class by an average of 5.8 (95% CI = 3.0–8.5) days/ungulate kill. The number of nights (locations between 2000 hours and 0500 hours) a cougar spent at a cluster was the most efficient variable at predicting predation, minimizing the missed kills, and minimizing number of extra clusters that needed to be searched. In Yellowstone National Park, where competing carnivores displaced cougars from their kills, it was necessary to search extra sites where a kill may not have been present to ensure we did not miss small, ungulate prey kills or kills with displacement. Using predictions from models to assign unvisited clusters as no kill, small prey kill, or large prey kill can bias downward the number of kills a cougar made and bias upward kills made by competitors that displace cougars or scavenge cougar kills. Our findings emphasize that field visitation is crucial in determining displacement and scavenging events that can result in biases when using GPS cluster methods in multicarnivore systems.