DURHAM, N.H. — University of New Hampshire researchers want to understand why bobcats are making a comeback in the state despite a dramatic decrease in their traditional prey, such as rabbits.
UNH biologists said the population of bobcats in the state might have rebounded to as many as 1,400. That led the state Fish and Game Commission to consider a limited bobcat hunting and trapping season. But the proposal received much public opposition and the idea was withdrawn earlier this year.
Researchers want to look at how changes in land use such as increased development and human activities have affected bobcats in northern New England. They theorize that bobcats have rebounded, in part, because they have shifted their diet to different prey, such as turkeys and squirrels that hang out beneath bird feeders during the winter.
To test their hypothesis, they will compare different forms of chemical elements, such as nitrogen and carbon, in possible prey animals with those in bobcat hair.
“Recent population increases suggest that bobcats are adapting to a changing environment,” said Marian Litvaitis, professor of natural resources and the environment and a leader of the study. “Identifying the pathways of this success may provide insight into understanding how ecosystems can remain relatively intact as human population continue to expand.”
Scientists also want to understand if bobcats that live in more developed areas are subjected to higher levels of stress. “Increased stress has been associated with a decreased immune response and decreased reproductive success in animal populations. Ultimately this may allow for projections about the general health of the bobcat population,” Litvaitis said.
New Hampshire had proposed issuing 50 bobcat permits through a lottery, but opponents said there was no need to hunt the animals. They worry the bobcats will be exploited for their pelts and the population could drop again.
Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Quebec all have bobcat seasons, though none has the limits New Hampshire proposed.