Interference competition between wolves and coyotes during variable prey abundance
July 31, 2021
Interference competition occurs when two species have similar resource requirements and one species is dominant and can suppress or exclude the subordinate species. Wolves (Canis lupus) and coyotes (C. latrans) are sympatric across much of their range in North America where white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) can be an important prey species. We assessed the extent of niche overlap between wolves and coyotes using activity, diet, and space use as evidence for interference competition during three periods related to the availability of white-tailed deer fawns in the Upper Great Lakes region of the USA. We assessed activity overlap (Δ) with data from accelerometers onboard global positioning system (GPS) collars worn by wolves (n = 11) and coyotes (n = 13). We analyzed wolf and coyote scat to estimate dietary breadth (B) and food niche overlap (α). We used resource utilization functions (RUFs) with canid GPS location data, white-tailed deer RUFs, ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) and snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) densities, and landscape covariates to compare population-level space use. Wolves and coyotes exhibited considerable overlap in activity (Δ = 0.86–0.92), diet (B = 3.1–4.9; α = 0.76–1.0), and space use of active and inactive RUFs across time periods. Coyotes relied less on deer as prey compared to wolves and consumed greater amounts of smaller prey items. Coyotes exhibited greater population-level variation in space use compared to wolves. Additionally, while active and inactive, coyotes exhibited greater selection of some land covers as compared to wolves. Our findings lend support for interference competition between wolves and coyotes with significant overlap across resource attributes examined. The mechanisms through which wolves and coyotes coexist appear to be driven largely by how coyotes, a generalist species, exploit narrow differences in resource availability and display greater population-level plasticity in resource use.
Author(s): Tyler R. Petroelje, Todd M. Kautz, Dean E. Beyer Jr., Jerrold L. Belant