Background: Recent findings indicate that cougars (Puma concolor) are expanding their range into the midwestern United States. Confirmed reports of cougar in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have increased dramatically in frequency during the last five years, leading to speculation that cougars may re-establish in the Upper Great Lakes (UGL) region, USA. Recent work showed favorable cougar habitat in northeastern Minnesota, suggesting that the northern forested regions of Michigan and Wisconsin may have similar potential. Recolonization of cougars in the UGL states would have important ecological, social, and political impacts that will require effective management.
Methodology/Principal Findings:Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), we extended a cougar habitat model to Michigan and Wisconsin and incorporated primary prey densities to estimate the capacity of the region to support cougars. Results suggest that approximately 39% (>58,000 km2) of the study area could support cougars, and that there is potential for a population of approximately 500 or more animals. An exploratory validation of this habitat model revealed strong association with 58 verified cougar locations occurring in the study area between 2008 and 2013.
Conclusions/Significance: Spatially explicit information derived from this study could potentially lead to estimation of a viable population, delineation of possible cougar-human conflict areas, and the targeting of site locations for current monitoring. Understanding predator-prey interactions, interspecific competition, and human-wildlife relationships is becoming increasingly critical as top carnivores continue to recolonize the UGL region.