At the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), we provide an independent assessment of the reliability of the scientific literature used to support conservation of Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi). We independently reached similar conclusions about unreliable scientific inferences before discussing the issues with each other or with others. Although a quarter-century of research supports many published conclusions, 2 sets of unreliable inferences may compromise efforts to conserve the species. The first is a set of 4 unreliable inferences that underlie the Panther Habitat Evaluation Model (PHEM), used by agencies to evaluate projects that may affect panther habitat. Specifically, the following assertions are unreliable: 1) panthers are forest obligates, 2) panthers require large (>500 ha) forest patches, 3) panthers are reluctant to cross 90-m gaps of nonforest habitat, and 4) the value of potential panther habitat declines linearly with distance to a population core in south Florida, USA. These assertions are unreliable because the analyses excluded (without mention or rationale) almost half the available data, compared used habitats to an inappropriate set of available habitats, made inferences about habitat preference without any data on available habitats, were based only on panther locations during daytime, ignored telemetry error, or suffered from other flaws. The second is a set of 2 unreliable inferences about panther demography prior to the genetic restoration effort initiated in 1995. Inferences that neonate survival was ≥0.84 and that the panther population was demographically vigorous prior to 1995 are flawed because the survival analysis ignored mortality during the first 4 months and because other inferences were based on numbers of births and deaths in samples of convenience rather than appropriate vital rates. These faulty inferences about panther demography brought unwarranted credibility to challenges of the genetic restoration program. Faulty inferences of both sets were repeated in subsequent scientific and popular articles; in several instances, previously published work was mis-cited. In its current (2002–2005) version, PHEM is unreliable and should not be used in decisions about panther habitat. Biologists should obtain better demographic estimates and fully analyze how the introgression program has affected these rates.
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Vol. 70 • No. 1