North American Porcupine
Seasonal Movement and Winter Diet Selection of Porcupines in Coastal Northern California (2018 – $800; 2017 – $1,000)
Humboldt State University
North American porcupines were historically abundant on the north coast of California however, recent findings indicate a dramatic decline in porcupine populations from the southern Sierras to the north coast region. In many parts of their range, porcupines are important prey for the Pacific fisher (Pekania pennanti), a proposed threatened species
in California and one with significant interest locally. Further, porcupines are a culturally significant species to local Hoopa, Karuk, and Yurok tribes, and our research presents an opportunity for education about local wildlife through the zoo’s ambassador porcupine, Dorsie. This project will fill a gap in current knowledge on porcupine ecology in California and coastal areas in general, which is needed to inform future research and conservation practices for both the porcupine and the fisher.
Funding from Sequoia Park Zoo and Conservation Grant program in 2014 helped us test noninvasive survey protocols for porcupine and allowed for the expansion of our research to include intensive study of porcupines in Tolowa Dunes State Park (TDSP), which supports one of the remaining robust porcupine populations in this part of the state. Since May 2015, we have successfully radio-collared 25 porcupines and collected over 675 location points on them. Furthermore, our use of experimental GPS trackers allows for the collection of fine-scale movement data using novel, low-cost technology with great potential to benefit other wildlife researchers.
Our study has two goals: to determine which habitat variables influence porcupine foraging decisions during winter and to collect baseline data on the mechanism by which porcupines are obtaining this information. Because winter is a particularly vulnerable season for porcupines range-wide, during which time deaths are more likely to occur understanding the mechanisms by which porcupines make foraging decisions during this critical season may help us understand why local populations of porcupines appear to be declining and how to better manage natural areas to support more and larger populations of porcupines.
We will engage the public and share our results through several different outlets. Our citizen science project, www.porcufinder.com, has been actively collecting reports since early 2014. In September 2015 and 2016, we led a talk and field trip hosted by the Tolowa Dunes Stewards, and in April 2015 we distributed brochures at the Sequoia Park Zoo Earth Day event, highlighting our work and the role of SPZ’s ambassador porcupine, Dorsie. Upon completion of this project, we will produce an updated educational brochure for distribution at the zoo highlighting new results from our research.