Phoebe Weston explains why the puma is a leading influencer in the animal kingdom:
Researchers reviewed 162 studies published between 1950 and 2020 looking at how pumas – also known as mountain lions or cougars – enrich ecosystems and support other species. They found the large cats contribute 1.5m kilograms of meat a day to scavenger communities across North and South America, with 281 species getting to feed on carcasses they have killed.
The paper, published in Mammal Review, also identified 203 species as puma prey; 40 that are affected by their fear of pumas; 12 that compete with pumas; and seven species that benefit from the ecosystem services they create.
“We went into this thinking pumas were connected to loads of other species for a variety of reasons,” says lead author Dr Laura LaBarge from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour. “But it was so surprising when we went through the enormous range of species connected to them, especially those that are indirectly affected by pumas, like invertebrates or plants.”