Pages Navigation Menu

Laboratory of Holly Ernest

Mountain lions

Mountain lions

Mountain Lion Ecological Genetics and Disease Dynamics

A remote camera captures a radio collared cougar in Griffith Park.

A hidden camera records Hollywood’s most reclusive star—this male cougar known as P-22 first seen in Griffith Park almost two years ago. A radio collar tracks his moves, but residents see scant signs of him. Photograph by Steve Winter

Lab researchers: Erick Gagne, Kyle Gustafson, Holly Ernest

Mountain life stories, pictures, and videos

Puma concolor – also known as the mountain lion, puma, cougar, catamount and the same species as the Florida panther.

We use genetic tools to study the ecology and health of mountain lion populations of the past, present, and future. Samples from mountain lions, including non-invasive fecal samples, will help us to determine kin relationships (mother-cub, aunt-nephew, grandparent-cub, etc), landscape features that effect mountain lion movement, and genetic viability of populations. In addition, we can develop predictive models of future trends for genetic diversity and transmission of infectious diseases among mountain lions. By learning more about this very special mammal we are able to inform management and conservation of mountain lions.


Population genetics 

Mountain Lions in tree - Photo credit Walter BoyceWe use genetic markers to determine population structure, barriers to gene flow, and genetic diversity of mountain lions.

Mountain lion - Photo Credit CDFGDevelopment of new DNA tools

Using molecular techniques we have developed new and non-invasive techniques for studying the ecology and presence of mountain lions. In addition we conduct forensic work using molecular techniques to identify mountain lions associated with livestock predation and public safety incidents.

  • Development of 21 microsatellite loci for puma (Puma concolor) ecology and forensics. Kurushima J., J. Well, J. Collins, H.B. Ernest. 2006.  Molecular Ecology. 6:1260-1262.
  • Fecal DNA analysis and risk assessment of mountain lion predation of bighorn sheep. Ernest H.B., E.S. Rubin, W.M. Boyce. 2002. . Journal of Wildlife Management 66(1) 75-85.
  • Molecular tracking of mountain lions in the Yosemite Valley region in California: genetic analysis using microsatellites and fecal DNA. Ernest, H.B., M.C.T. Penedo, B.P. May, M. Syvanen, and W.M. Boyce. 2000.  Molecular Ecology 9:433-441.
  • DNA Identification of mountain lions involved in livestock predation and public safety incidents.H.B. Ernest, W.M. Boyce. 2000.  Proceedings of the 19th Vertebrate Pest Conference. T. P. Salmon and A. C. Crabb, Eds. Published at the University of California, Davis. 290-29
Female Mountain Lion - Photo credit Winston Vickers

Female Mountain Lion; photo by Winston Vickers

Mountain lion disease dynamics

As part of a collaborative project funded by an NSF-EEID grant we will use landscape genomic approaches to evaluate the effects of landscape features and management practices on mountain lion population genetic structure. The information of mountain lion connectivity gained from the landscape genomics will then be used to inform network models of host connectivity, demographics, and disease dynamics. These models will be combined with models of viral transmission developed using contact dependent apathogenic viruses to develop models for pathogenic diseases. Our research team includes Sue VandeWoude (Colorado State University), Kevin Crooks (Colorado State University), Chris Funk (Colorado State University), Megan Craft (University of Minnesota), Scott Carver (University of Tasmania), Erick Gagne and Holly Ernest (University of Wyoming, Veterinary Sciences).


Mountain lion resources:

Check out stories about the research in: