Wolves alter the trajectory of forests by shaping the central place foraging behaviour of an ecosystem engineer
November 29, 2023
Predators can directly and indirectly alter the foraging behaviour of prey through direct predation and the risk of predation, and in doing so, initiate indirect effects that influence myriad species and ecological processes. We describe how wolves indirectly alter the trajectory of forests by constraining the distance that beavers, a central place forager and prolific ecosystem engineer, forage from water. Specifically, we demonstrate that wolves wait in ambush and kill beavers on longer feeding trails than would be expected based on the spatio-temporal availability of beavers. This pattern is driven by temporal dynamics of beaver foraging: beavers make more foraging trips and spend more time on land per trip on longer feeding trails that extend farther from water. As a result, beavers are more vulnerable on longer feeding trails than shorter ones. Wolf predation appears to be a selective evolutionary pressure propelled by consumptive and non-consumptive mechanisms that constrain the distance from water beavers forage, which in turn limits the area of forest around wetlands, lakes and rivers beavers alter through foraging. Thus, wolves appear intricately linked to boreal forest dynamics by shaping beaver foraging behaviour, a form of natural disturbance that alters the successional and ecological states of forests.
Author(s): Thomas D. Gable, Sean M. Johnson-Bice, Austin T. Homkes, John Fieberg, Joseph K. Bump