Land-use change structures carnivore communities in remaining tallgrass prairie.
The Flint Hills ecoregion is the largest remaining tract of native tallgrass prairie in North America. Contemporary landscape change (e.g., urbanization, agricultural production) in this region is likely affecting native biodiversity; however, we have a limited understanding of how these changes might affect carnivores. We used camera traps distributed across urban-rural land-use gradients, and multiseason occupancy models, to investigate the influence of landscape structure and composition on habitat occupancy dynamics of 3 native carnivores (coyote [Canis latrans]; bobcat [Lynx rufus]; and striped skunk [Mephitis mephitis]) and 1 nonnative carnivore (domestic cat) in the Flint Hills, Kansas, USA, during 2016-2017. Additionally, we assessed the potential for coyotes, the apex predator in the Flint Hills, to mediate habitat occupancy of domestic cats. We also examined the relative influence of landscape factors on native carnivore species richness and diversity. As predicted, coyotes were less likely to occupy and colonize sites, and more likely to leave sites, surrounded by urban landcover. Habitat occupancy by bobcats was positively associated with forest landcover and edge densities; however, bobcats seemed insensitive to urban landcover. Additionally, bobcats were more likely to colonize sites with more grassland and row-crop agriculture landcover. Surprisingly, striped skunk occupancy and colonization rates at sites were negatively related to urban landcover. As expected, domestic cats were more likely to occur at and colonize sites with increased urban landcover and less likely at sites with high coyote occupancy probabilities. Carnivore species diversity and richness were negatively related to the urban landcover. Our results suggest that urban landcover may limit the spatial distributions of some native carnivores in the Flint Hills and contribute to reduced carnivore diversity. Moreover, urban landcover in the Flint Hills may provide domestic cats with refugia from intraguild pressures by coyotes. Our results provide wildlife managers with insights into how contemporary landscape change in this imperiled ecosystem may affect biodiversity conservation and maintenance.