Ohio State Newark Senior Lecturer Researches Bobcat Population in Coshocton County
NEWARK, Ohio, February 3, 2016 – It’s kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack, but a senior lecturer of biology at The Ohio State University at Newark has spent the last several months combing through more than 71,000 digital photos taken as part of a research project called “Wild Coshocton.” Dr. Shauna Weyrauch has found several interesting pictures, including one that looks like a deer taking a “selfie.” However, she also found photos of what she was looking for – bobcats in the wild.
“The name of our project – ‘Wild Coshocton’ – might sound a little tongue-in-cheek at first, but when you start looking at the landscape in Coshocton County – the thousands of acres of public wildlife areas and private lands that offer suitable habitat, and the photographs of beautiful wildlife, like bobcats, foxes, beavers and wild turkeys – it really is pretty wild! News that predators like bobcats have returned to Coshocton County, Ohio, is wonderful. It means that Coshocton County is reclaiming some of its wild natural heritage.”
The goal of Weyrauch’s research project is to see whether bobcat populations are increasing or decreasing in that region of Ohio. She plans to gather data for several years.
“I did all my graduate work on amphibians, so bobcat ecology is a new area of research for me. But I talk about endangered species in my introductory courses,” said Weyrauch. “I had a student ask how we are doing protecting endangered species locally, and that got me thinking about ways to engage students in local conservation. I talked with a colleague, Dr. Andy Roberts, about beginning a camera trapping study of bobcats, and he was enthusiastic and offered to get involved as co-principal investigator. So, the ‘Wild Coshocton’ research project was born.”
Weyrauch said Coshocton County is the perfect place to conduct her research because state data shows that there has been an increase recently in bobcat sightings throughout the southeast part of the state. Coshocton County is on the leading edge of the area where the increased sightings have been reported.
“Bobcats were once found throughout the state but were extirpated by the mid-1800s due to habitat loss and over-hunting,” said Weyrauch. “The bobcat was one of the first species listed as endangered in Ohio in 1974. By 2012, sightings of bobcats had increased to the point that the species was re-classified from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened.’ In 2014, it was removed from the ‘threatened’ list in Ohio, although it is still protected against hunting and trapping.
“These decisions have been based on reported sightings. Verified sightings are recorded by the Ohio Division of Wildlife as road-killed animals, animals incidentally trapped or shot and photographic evidence. A steep increase in sightings has occurred since 2006, and much of that increase has been in the form of photographs from trail cameras by hunters and land owners. Consequently, we do not know if the increase in sightings is a result of increasing numbers or increasing monitoring of active trails commonly used by the same animals.”
Weyrauch’s research involves using digital cameras with motion sensors to document presence or absence of bobcats as well as population trends. In the summer of 2015, Weyrauch set up cameras at 15 sites in southern Coshocton County. The cameras operated for more than 1200 hours and captured nine images of bobcats, during three separate sightings. The image of the deer and several images of coyotes were also captured.
“Coyotes are a species which is not native to Ohio,” said Weyrauch. “They may interfere with the bobcat’s ability to occupy otherwise suitable habitat. The population of coyotes has been increasing in Ohio and they compete with bobcats for similar prey. Coyotes have also been known to kill bobcats, not for food but for ‘interference competition’ to eliminate a competitor.”
Weyrauch’s research was funded through an Ohio State University Scholarly Activity Grant and an Ohio State Faculty-Initiated Student Assistantship Grant. After she and her students have collected data for several years, Weyrauch plans to share the information with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife. She hopes officials will use the data to help make decisions about bobcat protection and management.
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