Date of this Version
J Ethol (2017) 35:37–49, DOI 10.1007/s10164-016-0488-2.
Coyote (Canis latrans) spatial and social ecology are variable, but have been little studied in high-elevation environments. In these temperate ecosystems, large ungulates are prevalent and coyote pack size may be large in order for them to scavenge and defend ungulate carcasses from conspecifics in neighboring packs. We initiated a study to understand the spatial and social ecology of coyotes on the Valles Caldera National Preserve, a high-elevation (2450–3400 m) protected area in northern New Mexico. Our objectives were to (1) describe the home range size and habitat use of coyotes in the preserve, (2) describe coyote movements within and outside of packs, and (3) to evaluate the relationship between coyote social cohesion and the amount of elk (Cervus elaphus) in the coyote diet. We acquired global positioning system and telemetry locations from 33 coyotes from August 2005 to July 2009. We classified 23 coyotes (70 % of individuals) as residents (i.e., territorial) during at least part of the study and ten coyotes (30 %) as transients. Overall mean home range size of resident packs was 10.6 ± 2.2 (SD) km2. Home range size varied between packs, but did not vary by season or year. Coyotes used dry and wet meadow habitats as expected based on availability; coyotes used riparian habitat more than expected, and forests less than expected. Social cohesion did not vary among biological seasons. Alpha coyotes were more socially cohesive with each other than with other pack members, and a transient exhibited temporal–spatial avoidance of pack members while inside the pack’s territory followed by integration into the pack. Contrary to expectations, we found no relationship between coyote social cohesion and the proportion of elk in coyote diets. We concluded that coyote space use and sociality on the preserve were relatively stable year-round despite changes in biological needs, snow depth, and utilization of variously sized prey.