The holidays are upon us and so just as my lab at UCLA has evacuated to head home for the holidays, so have biologists at the National Park Service closed traps and headed out of LA to spend time with family. Traps were closed this morning and will be reopened next week by one biologist, Justin Brown, who will come back early to open traps and get back to work. For me, staying put in Los Angeles although my family is in Texas, this means a few days of relaxation without constant attention to my phone to see if NPS has caught a cat. It's nice to take a break from being on call 24/7. I find it hard to relax when I never know when the next capture will occur, treating each day as a day I may have to alter the day's plans completely. Traps are only closed for a few days this season, so not long enough for me to start missing seeing a bobcat. I will use the time to hopefully catch up with B290 and adjust my cameras in the field.
And to get the holidays started off well, I got a nice gift today. A resident in Beverly hills gave me a great present- a bobcat skeleton! She found the skeleton in her very large (by Beverly Hills standards) yard. Because she keeps her property in a natural, thickly vegetated state, and because she has such a spacious yard, she only recently discovered the bobcat, although I'd guess it's been there for quite a while. I can't guess much about the bobcat- the cause of death, the sex, etc., but using what remained of the bobcat, I will still be able to learn a lot. There was a little remaining tissue and hair still attached to parts of the skeleton. I sit in my lab at UCLA now just having taken pieces of the tissue and prepared them to begin the genetic analysis process, which first means extracting the DNA. I've cut enough tissue for genetic analysis, and put it in the proper tube to begin the extraction process, which I will do in the next couple weeks. Although this animal is nearly 100% decomposed, I feel confident that with the remaining tissue, I will get DNA.
Once I extract the DNA, I will be able to sex the animal genetically. I will also add this individual, BM055 (the animal mortality number I've given it meaning Bobcat Mortality #55 that we've recovered samples from in the Santa Monicas), to the pool of other samples I've gathered from the Beverly Hills area. So, I will genotype this bobcat, and combined with all the other samples I've collected from the area (at least 21 bobcats that I captured, plus some other mortalities and bobcat scat I've collected and am also genotyping), I will learn about the genetics of the bobcat population in the area as a whole. I will learn how healthy, genetically, the bobcats in the area seem to be. I will learn if, since it is in a very urban, fragmented region surrounded by freeways and urban development, there is much inbreeding occuring in the population which would decrease the genetic health of the bobcats in the area. I will learn if this bobcat was born in the Beverly Hills area, or perhaps immigrated from Topanga Canyon State Park or even Griffith Park area. I will also be able to estimate the bobcat population size based just on the genetic analysis of all the bobcats sampled in the area.
Using the skull, I will also be able to age the bobcat using it's canines. So, even with a pile of bones and a little bit of fur, we can learn a lot not just about a single individual, but also add to information about the population as a whole!