Date of this Version
Ecological Applications, 0(0), 2017, pp. 1–16
Understanding the ecological roles of species that influence ecosystem processes is a central goal of ecology and conservation biology. Eastern coyotes (Canis latrans) have ascended to the role of apex predator across much of eastern North America since the extirpation of wolves (Canis spp.) and there has been considerable confusion regarding their ability to prey on ungulates and their ecological niche relative to wolves. Eastern wolves (C. lycaon) are thought to have been the historical top predator in eastern deciduous forests and have previously been characterized as deer specialists that are inefficient predators of moose because of their smaller size relative to gray wolves (C. lupus). We investigated intrinsic and extrinsic influences on per capita kill rates of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and moose (Alces alces) during winter by sympatric packs of eastern coyotes, eastern wolves, and admixed canids in Ontario, Canada to clarify the predatory ability and ecological roles of the different canid top predators of eastern North America. Eastern coyote ancestry within packs negatively influenced per capita total ungulate (deer and moose combined) and moose kill rates. Furthermore, canids in packs dominated by eastern coyote ancestry consumed significantly less ungulate biomass and more anthropogenic food than packs dominated by wolf ancestry. Similar to gray wolves in previous studies, eastern wolves preyed on deer where they were available. However, in areas were deer were scarce, eastern wolves killed moose at rates similar to those previously documented for gray wolves at comparable moose densities across North America. Eastern coyotes are effective deer predators, but their dietary flexibility and low kill rates on moose suggest they have not replaced the ecological role of wolves in eastern North America.