Using DNA to describe and quantify interspecific killing of fishers in California
Interspecific killing is common among carnivores and can have population-level effects on imperiled species. The fisher (Pekania [Martes] pennant) is a rare forest carnivore in western North America and a candidate for listing under the United States Endangered Species Act. Interspecific killing and intraguild predation are poorly understood in fishers and potential threats to existing western populations. We studied the prevalence and patterns of interspecific killing of fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada and Coastal Range of California. We collected forensic evidence and samples from the carcasses and predation sites, conducted full necropsies when possible, and used molecular methods to determine species of predators responsible for killing fishers. We recovered 101 (59 female, 42 male) fisher carcasses; for 62 (61%) carcasses, we attributed cause of death to interspecific killing. We found that bobcats (Lynx rufus, n=25 fisher mortalities), mountain lions (Puma concolor, n=20), and coyotes (Canis latrans, n=4) were predators of fishers in our study areas. Bobcats killed only female fishers, whereas mountain lions more frequently killed male than female fishers, confirming our hypothesis that female fishers would suffer lethal attacks by smaller predators than would male fishers. Coyotes rarely killed fishers. We found differences in pathologic characteristics of the predation events among the 3 predator species, which may be helpful in identifying predator species.