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Immigration does not offset harvest mortality in groups of a cooperatively breeding carnivore

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The effects of harvest on cooperatively breeding species are often more complex than simply subtracting the number of animals that died from the group count. Changes in demographic rates, particularly dispersal, could offset some effects of harvest mortality in groups but this is rarely explored with cooperative breeders. We asked whether a cooperatively breeding species known for long-distance dispersal could compensate for the effect of harvest mortality on density by adopting immigrants into the group. We used genetic samples to estimate the minimum density of gray wolves (Canis lupus) and proportion of immigrants in groups in the northern US Rocky Mountains after an annual harvest regime was initiated and in the Canadian Rocky Mountains where wolves were managed consistently under an annual harvest regime. We tested whether immigration (1) compensated, (2) partially compensated or (3) did not compensate numerically for harvest mortality in groups and hypothesized immigration would increase with increasing harvest intensity. Density of wolves in groups declined after harvest was initiated whereas immigration into groups was consistently low and did not change with harvest in the US study area. Immigration into groups was similarly low and density even lower in the Canadian study area compared to the US study area. Our results indicate immigration did not compensate for harvest mortality in groups in two separate populations of a cooperatively breeding carnivore. We hypothesize the social structure of wolf groups may limit the potentially compensatory response of immigration in some populations.

Document: Bassing-et-al.-2020-Animal-Conservation-Early-View.pdf  PDF icon

Author(s): S. B. Bassing, D. E. Ausband, M. S. Mitchell, M. K. Schwartz, J. J. Nowak, G. C. Hale, and L. P. Waits

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