US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Behaviour 153 (2016), pp.1473–1487, DOI 10.1163/1568539X-00003391.


U.S. government work.


Risk to predators hunting dangerous prey is an emerging area of research and could account for possible persistent differences in gray wolf (Canis lupus) pack sizes. We documented significant differences in long-term wolf-pack-size averages and variation in the Superior National Forest (SNF), Denali National Park and Preserve, Yellowstone National Park, and Yukon, Canada (p < 0.01). The SNF differences could be related to the wolves’ risk when hunting primary prey, for those packs (N = 3) hunting moose (Alces americanus) were significantly larger than those (N = 10) hunting white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) (F1,8 = 16.50, p = 0.004). Our data support the hypothesis that differential pack-size persistence may be perpetuated by differences in primary prey riskiness to wolves, and we highlight two important extensions of this idea: (1) the potential for wolves to provision and defend injured packmates from other wolves and (2) the importance of less-risky, buffer prey to pack-size persistence and year-to-year variation.