DURHAM — Northern New England bobcats are being affected by suburban sprawl and climate change, according to researchers at New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station.
Rory Carroll, who is an earth and environmental sciences doctoral candidate at the University of New Hampshire, is working with Experiment Station Researcher and UNH Professor Marian Litvaitis. Together, they are using DNA from bobcat skulls collected by state agencies since the 1950s and 1960s to examine decades of population genetic patterns across Northern New England.
They found that bobcats have changed how they move throughout the states over time. Genetic diversity has somewhat decreased and the population is more divided due to human-built and natural barriers.
For example, along some parts of I-89 borders between subpopulations align closely with the location of the highway.
The researchers also noticed a trend in where bobcats are now thriving.
Historically, bobcats did well in southern areas of the region because they were outcompeted by the Canada Lynx in the north. Now bobcats are thriving in more northern areas because of the substantial decrease in snowfall due to climate change as well as human development of land in the south.
“Our earlier work showed snow depth limited the distribution of bobcats. Hence, the northern part of the state is now better habitat than it was historically. Second, the south likely has become less hospitable because that is where the greatest amount of development has occurred between the historic and contemporary times,” Carroll said in a statement.
Carroll said that despite these challenges, bobcats are more abundant in New Hampshire today than they were in the 1950s and 1960s. Part of that has to do with hunting restrictions in the Granite State, Carroll said.
Carroll, who is 38-years-old and living in Sunderland, Mass., is planning to defend his dissertation Wednesday. He said this research was the springboard he used to determine what changes bobcats have made in their diets and to study the cortisol levels of contemporary bobcats to see how stressed they are in their environments.
“It’s pretty awesome with the dissertation coming up next week, but the really cool thing is getting the work out there,” Carroll said in an interview.
Carroll and Litvaitis have published their research in the journal “Conservation Genetics.” Their work is being funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state of New Hampshire. It is also supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship program, UNH Graduate School Dissertation Year Fellowship, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife, and Parks, as well as individual hunters and trappers.