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Osteological corroboration of pathological stress in a population of endangered Florida pumas (Puma concolor coryi)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 1998

Geordie L. Duckler
Department of Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-1606, USA
Blaire Van Valkenburgh
Department of Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-1606, USA
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The Florida panther, Puma concolor coryi, is a subspecies on the verge of extinction. Recent field studies have shown the dwindling population to be suffering from numerous physical problems manifest in their soft tissues. Here we explore the skulls and skeletons of more than 50 P. concolor coryi for corroborative evidence of poor condition such as tooth fracture, arthritis, infection, trauma, and lines of arrested growth (Harris lines). Results are compared with those for an osteological collection of presumed healthy pumas from outside Florida. Although the two samples did not differ significantly in the relative prevalence of most of the pathologies, the Florida cats fractured their teeth more often and exhibited significantly more lines of arrested growth in their long bones. The greater number of teeth broken in life is associated with heavier tooth wear among Florida panthers and a diet depauperate in large prey. The elevated incidence of Harris lines is probably a result of more regular episodes of poor nutrition in the Florida population. Our results demonstrate that the study of osteopathologies is a new tool for the conservation biologist and highlight the value of preserving entire skeletons, as has been done for P. concolor coryi.

Research Article
© 1998 The Zoological Society of London

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