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1. Interference competition with wolves Canis lupus is hypothesized to limit the distribution and abundance of coyotes Canis latrans, and the extirpation of wolves is often invoked to explain the expansion in coyote range throughout much of North America.
2. We used spatial, seasonal and temporal heterogeneity in wolf distribution and abundance to test the hypothesis that interference competition with wolves limits the distribution and abundance of coyotes. From August 2001 to August 2004, we gathered data on cause-specific mortality and survival rates of coyotes captured at wolf-free and wolf-abundant sites in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP), Wyoming, USA, to determine whether mortality due to wolves is sufficient to reduce coyote densities. We examined whether spatial segregation limits the local distribution of coyotes by evaluating home-range overlap between resident coyotes and wolves, and by contrasting dispersal rates of transient coyotes captured in wolf-free and wolf-abundant areas. Finally, we analysed data on population densities of both species at three study areas across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) to determine whether an inverse relationship exists between coyote and wolf densities.
3.Although coyotes were the numerically dominant predator, across the GYE, densities varied spatially and temporally in accordance with wolf abundance. Mean coyote densities were 33% lower at wolf-abundant sites in GTNP, and densities declined 39% in Yellowstone National Park following wolf reintroduction.
4. A strong negative relationship between coyote and wolf densities (β=-3.988, P < 0.005, r2 = 0.54, n = 16), both within and across study sites, supports the hypothesis that competition with wolves limits coyote populations.
5. Overall mortality of coyotes resulting from wolf predation was low, but wolves were responsible for 56% of transient coyote deaths (n = 5). In addition, dispersal rates of transient coyotes captured at wolf-abundant sites were 117% higher than for transients captured in wolf-free areas.
6. Our results support the hypothesis that coyote abundance is limited by competition with wolves, and suggest that differential effects on survival and dispersal rates of transient coyotes are important mechanisms by which wolves reduce coyote densities.