Spatial Structure of Woody Cover Affects Habitat Use Patterns of Ocelots in Texas

Author(s): Jason V. Lombardi, Michael E. Tewes, Humberto L. Perotto-Baldivieso, Jose M. Mata, and Tyler A. Campbell
Published: April 2020

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About 80% of the known breeding population of ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) in the USA occurs exclusively on private ranches in northern Willacy and Kenedy counties in South Texas. These private ranches support several large contiguous undisturbed patches of thornscrub, which is preferred by ocelots. Past studies have indicated ocelots in South Texas select for woody patches that contain extremely dense thornscrub (i.e., 95% canopy cover and 85% vertical cover) and require large patches of woody cover to survive. Landscape metrics have been used to explain ocelot habitat use in fragmented areas, but their application in less fragmented rangelands is lacking. From 2011 to 2018, we used camera traps on the East Foundation’s El Sauz Ranch to assess seasonal habitat use of ocelots relative to landscape structure, configuration, and complexity and other site-level factors in South Texas. Seasonal habitat use and detection were positively influenced by larger mean patch area and lower landscape shape index values. We also observed ocelots were less likely to be detected during periods of drought and exhibited a seasonal trend in detection. Ocelots used woody patches that were larger and more regularly shaped, indicating a preference for areas with a lower degree of fragmentation across the study area. As patches become larger, they will coalesce over time and form larger woody aggregates, which will promote ocelot habitat use. Brush management needs to be strategic as patch area and shape index are a limiting factor to promote ocelot habitat use on working rangelands in South Texas. These results demonstrate the ability to use landscape metrics to discern the effects of spatial structure of vegetation communities relative to ocelot occupancy parameters.

Suggested Citation

Lombardi, J.V.,  M.E. Tewes, H.L. Perotto-Baldivieso, J.M. Mata, and T.A. Campbell. 2020. Spatial structure of woody cover affects habitat use patterns
of ocelots in Texas
. Mammal Research: DOI 10.1007/s13364-020-00501-2. 

Ocelot Conservation