Differential provisioning roles, prey size, and prey abundance shape the dynamic feeding behavior of gray wolves
October 27, 2023
The demands of raising dependent young can influence the feeding behaviors of social carnivores, especially for individuals that are primarily responsible for provisioning young. We investigated how the feeding and provisioning behavior of a social carnivore, gray wolves (Canis lupus), are connected and shaped by extrinsic and intrinsic factors, and whether and how these patterns changed throughout the pup-rearing season (April–August). We found breeding wolves had shorter handling times of prey, lower probability of returning to kills, and greater probability of returning to homesites after kills compared to subordinate individuals. However, the feeding and provisioning behaviors of breeding individuals changed considerably over the pup-rearing season. Wolves had longer handling times and returned to provision pups directly after kills less frequently as annual prey abundance decreased. These patterns indicate that adult wolves prioritize meeting their own energetic demands over those of their pups when prey abundance decreases. We suggest that differential provisioning of offspring based on prey abundance is a behavioral mechanism by which group size adjusts to available resources via changes in neonate survival.
Author(s): Thomas D. Gable, Sean M. Johnson-Bice, Austin T. Homkes, Joseph K. Bump