Eastern coyote lacks the chops to replace wolves in the ecosystem
Date: March 23, 2017
Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln
It may have replaced the dwindling eastern wolf atop many food chains, but the eastern coyote lacks the chops to become the big-game hunter of an ecosystem, new research led by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln ecologist shows.
Eastern wolves once roamed forests along the Atlantic coast, preying on moose, white-tailed deer and other hoofed mammals collectively known as ungulates. As the wolf population plummeted via the rifle and the trap, however, the eastern coyote inherited the status of apex predator in those habitats.
But a study from John Benson and colleagues provides evidence that the eastern coyote hunts moose and other large prey far less frequently than does the eastern wolf -- instead preferring to attack smaller game or scavenge human leftovers.
The findings help resolve long-standing questions about whether eastern coyotes have filled the ecological niche left vacant when the eastern wolf became threatened, Benson said.
"Wolves rely on large prey to survive," said Benson, assistant professor of vertebrate ecology who conducted the research as a doctoral student at Trent University. "But the smaller size of coyotes appears to give them dietary flexibility to survive on a wider variety of food and prey sizes, making them less predictable predators of large prey.