Historical study finds Canada lynx might thrive better in U.S.

A Canada lynx, or "Lynx canadensis," are mostly populated in the Canadian wilderness. A new study suggests the lynx may thrive better in the United States in coming decades. Photo courtesy of Washington State University

April 1 (UPI) -- A study released Monday suggests that Canada lynx might thrive better in the United States in the future where they likely originated.

The Washington State University-conducted assessment, published in the journal Biological Conservation, indicated how the elusive cat used to have a better habitat in the United States before factors caused a switch in migration.

Canada lynx likely had historically roamed over the large part of the Pacific Northwest near Washington and Oregon, the Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes and New England regions.

The study suggests the lynx might fare better in the future in parts of Utah and in the Yellowstone National Park regions of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

Daniel Thornton, an associate professor at Washington State who lead the study, said having a more accurate picture of a species' roaming past can help avoid an effect known as "shifting baseline syndrome," which is a change in what people might view as a "normal" habit for a species.

"History matters even for wildlife," Thornton said in a news release.

Even though a small lynx population was successfully reintroduced into the Colorado Rockies in 1999, it was previously believed the lynx were not found much in those parts of the United States.

"As part of the criteria for species recovery, we have to understand their historic distribution," said Thornton, a wildlife ecologist. "Otherwise, how can we help recover a species, if we don't know what we're recovering to?"

With help from Canada's Trent University, the study's model used factors such as temperature, precipitation and land use with data going back to 1900. The research team then validated those results by using other records from museums, game hunters and trappers.

They then used their model to project the possibility of suitable animal habitats looking into the future as far as 2070, even taking climate change factors into consideration

This new U.S. Department of Agriculture-backed assessment is expected to have positive conservation implications beyond just the Canada lynx, with the research team hopeful that it will aid future conservation efforts

"Thinking about historic range is really important. It's also quite difficult because we often have limited data on where species were in the past," Thornton said.

But the study's authors point out that whether these areas could viably support a lynx population will require further study.

"There are potential ways to go about addressing that, and we wanted to provide one possible approach in this paper."