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Assessment Of Prey Vulnerability Through Analysis Of Wolf Movements And Kill Sites

Bergman, Eric J., Garrott, Robert A., Creel, Scott, Borkowski, John J., Jaffe, Rosemary, Watson, F. G. R.
Ecological applications 2006 v.16 no.1 pp. 273-284
Bison bison, Canis lupus, Cervus elaphus, bison, edge effects, elks, games, habitats, meadows, national parks, predation, predator-prey relationships, snow, spatial data, telemetry, winter, wolves, Wyoming
Within predator–prey systems behavior can heavily influence spatial dynamics, and accordingly, the theoretical study of how spatial dynamics relate to stability within these systems has a rich history. However, our understanding of these behaviors in large mammalian systems is poorly developed. To address the relationship between predator selection patterns, prey density, and prey vulnerability, we quantified selection patterns for two fine‐scale behaviors of a recovering wolf (Canis lupus) population in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. Wolf spatial data were collected between November and May from 1998–1999 until 2001–2002. Over four winters, 244 aerial locations, 522 ground‐based telemetry locations, 1287 km of movement data from snow tracking, and the locations of 279 wolf kill sites were recorded. There was evidence that elk (Cervus elaphus) and bison (Bison bison) densities had a weak effect on the sites where wolves traveled and made kills. Wolf movements showed a strong selection for geothermal areas, meadows, and areas near various types of habitat edges. Proximity to edge and habitat class also had a strong influence on the locations where elk were most vulnerable to predation. There was little evidence that wolf kill sites differed from the places where wolves traveled, indicating that elk vulnerability influenced where wolves selected to travel. Our results indicate that elk are more vulnerable to wolves under certain conditions and that wolves are capable of selecting for these conditions. As such, vulnerability plays a central role in predator–prey behavioral games and can potentially impact the systems to which they relate.