skip to main content

Title: Environmental correlates of activity and energetics in a wide-ranging social carnivore
Abstract Background

Environmental conditions can influence animal movements, determining when and how much animals move. Yet few studies have quantified how abiotic environmental factors (e.g., ambient temperature, snow depth, precipitation) may affect the activity patterns and metabolic demands of wide-ranging large predators. We demonstrate the utility of accelerometers in combination with more traditional GPS telemetry to measure energy expenditure, ranging patterns, and movement ecology of 5 gray wolves (Canis lupus), a wide-ranging social carnivore, from spring through autumn 2015 in interior Alaska, USA.


Wolves exhibited substantial variability in home range size (range 500–8300 km2) that was not correlated with daily energy expenditure. Mean daily energy expenditure and travel distance were 22 MJ and 18 km day−1, respectively. Wolves spent 20% and 17% more energy during the summer pup rearing and autumn recruitment seasons than the spring breeding season, respectively, regardless of pack reproductive status. Wolves were predominantly crepuscular but during the night spent 2.4 × more time engaged in high energy activities (such as running) during the pup rearing season than the breeding season.


Integrating accelerometry with GPS telemetry can reveal detailed insights into the activity and energetics of wide-ranging predators. Heavy precipitation, deep snow, and high ambient temperatures each reduced wolf mobility, suggesting that abiotic conditions more » can impact wolf movement decisions. Identifying such patterns is an important step toward evaluating the influence of environmental factors on the space use and energy allocation in carnivores with ecosystem-wide cascading effects, particularly under changing climatic conditions.

« less
; ; ; ; ; ;
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Animal Biotelemetry
Springer Science + Business Media
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Understanding how mesopredators manage the risks associated with apex predators is key to explaining impacts of apex predators on mesopredator populations and patterns of mesopredator space use. Here we examine the spatial response of coyotes (Canis latrans Say, 1823) to risk posed by wolves (Canis lupus Linnaeus, 1758) using data from sympatric individuals fitted with GPS collars in subarctic Alaska, USA, near the northern range limit for coyotes. We show that coyotes do not universally avoid wolves, but instead demonstrate season-specific responses to both wolf proximity and long-term use of the landscape by wolves. Specifically, coyotes switched from avoiding wolves in summer to preferring areas with wolves in winter, and this selection was consistent across short-term and longer term temporal scales. In the summer, coyotes responded less strongly to risk of wolves when in open areas than when in closed vegetation. We also demonstrate that coyotes maintain extremely large territories averaging 291 km 2 , and experience low annual survival (0.50) with large carnivores being the largest source of mortality. This combination of attraction and avoidance predicated on season and landcover suggests that mesopredators use complex behavioral strategies to mediate the effects of apex predators.
  2. Abstract

    Top predators have cascading effects throughout the food web, but their impacts on scavenger abundance are largely unknown. Gray wolves (Canis lupus) provide carrion to a suite of scavenger species, including the common raven (Corvus corax). Ravens are wide‐ranging and intelligent omnivores that commonly take advantage of anthropogenic food resources. In areas where they overlap with wolves, however, ravens are numerous and ubiquitous scavengers of wolf‐acquired carrion. We aimed to determine whether subsidies provided through wolves are a limiting factor for raven populations in general and how the wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park in 1995–1997 affected raven population abundance and distribution on the Yellowstone's Northern Range specifically. We counted ravens throughout Yellowstone's Northern Range in March from 2009 to 2017 in both human‐use areas and wolf habitat. We then used statistics related to the local wolf population and the winter weather conditions to model raven abundance during our study period and predict raven abundance on the Northern Range both before and after the wolf reintroduction. In relatively severe winters with greater snowpack, raven abundance increased in areas of human use and decreased in wolf habitat. When wolves were able to acquire more carrion, however, ravens increased in wolfmore »habitat and decreased in areas with anthropogenic resources. Raven populations prior to the wolf reintroduction were likely more variable and heavily dependent on ungulate winter‐kill and hunter‐provided carcasses. The wolf recovery in Yellowstone helped stabilize raven populations by providing a regular food supply, regardless of winter severity. This stabilization has important implications for effective land management as wolves recolonize the west and global climate patterns change.

    « less
  3. The ability of wild animals to navigate and survive in complex and dynamic environments depends on their ability to store relevant information and place it in a spatial context. Despite the centrality of spatial memory, and given our increasing ability to observe animal movements in the wild, it is perhaps surprising how difficult it is to demonstrate spatial memory empirically. We present a cognitive analysis of movements of several wolves ( Canis lupus ) in Finland during a summer period of intensive hunting and den-centered pup-rearing. We tracked several wolves in the field by visiting nearly all GPS locations outside the den, allowing us to identify the species, location and timing of nearly all prey killed. We then developed a model that assigns a spatially explicit value based on memory of predation success and territorial marking. The framework allows for estimation of multiple cognitive parameters, including temporal and spatial scales of memory. For most wolves, fitted memory-based models outperformed null models by 20 to 50% at predicting locations where wolves chose to forage. However, there was a high amount of individual variability among wolves in strength and even direction of responses to experiences. Some wolves tended to return to locationsmore »with recent predation success—following a strategy of foraging site fidelity—while others appeared to prefer a site switching strategy. These differences are possibly explained by variability in pack sizes, numbers of pups, and features of the territories. Our analysis points toward concrete strategies for incorporating spatial memory in the study of animal movements while providing nuanced insights into the behavioral strategies of individual predators.« less
  4. Abstract

    Optimal foraging theory states that animals should maximize resource acquisition rates with respect to energy expenditure, which may involve alteration of strategies in response to changes in resource availability and energetic need. However, field-based studies of changes in foraging behavior at fine spatial and temporal scales are rare, particularly among species that feed on highly mobile prey across broad landscapes. To derive information on changes in foraging behavior of breeding brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) over time, we used GPS telemetry and distribution models of their dominant prey species to relate bird movements to changes in foraging habitat quality in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Over the course of each breeding season, pelican cohorts began by foraging in suboptimal habitats relative to the availability of high-quality patches, but exhibited a marked increase in foraging habitat quality over time that outpaced overall habitat improvement trends across the study site. These findings, which are consistent with adjustment of foraging patch use in response to increased energetic need, highlight the degree to which animal populations can optimize their foraging behaviors in the context of uncertain and dynamic resource availability, and provide an improved understanding of how landscape-level features can impact behavior.

  5. Abstract

    Major disturbances can temporarily remove factors that otherwise constrain population abundance and distribution. During such windows of relaxed top‐down and/or bottom‐up control, ungulate populations can grow rapidly, eventually leading to resource depletion and density‐dependent expansion into less‐preferred habitats. Although many studies have explored the demographic outcomes and ecological impacts of these processes, fewer have examined the individual‐level mechanisms by which they occur. We investigated these mechanisms in Gorongosa National Park, where the Mozambican Civil War devastated large‐mammal populations between 1977 and 1992. Gorongosa’s recovery has been marked by proliferation of waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), an historically marginal 200‐kg antelope species, which is now roughly 20‐fold more abundant than before the war. We show that after years of unrestricted population growth, waterbuck have depleted food availability in their historically preferred floodplain habitat and have increasingly expanded into historically avoided savanna habitat. This expansion was demographically skewed: mixed‐sex groups of prime‐age individuals remained more common in the floodplain, while bachelors, loners, and subadults populated the savanna. By coupling DNA metabarcoding and forage analysis, we show that waterbuck in these two habitats ate radically different diets, which were more digestible and protein‐rich in the floodplain than in savanna; thus, although individuals in bothmore »habitats achieved positive net energy balance, energetic performance was higher in the floodplain. Analysis of daily activity patterns from high‐resolution GPS‐telemetry, accelerometry, and animal‐borne video revealed that savanna waterbuck spent less time eating, perhaps to accommodate their tougher, lower‐quality diets. Waterbuck in savanna also had more ectoparasites than those in the floodplain. Thus, plasticity in foraging behavior and diet selection enabled savanna waterbuck to tolerate the costs of density‐dependent spillover, at least in the short term; however, the already poorer energetic performance of these individuals implies that savanna occupancy may become prohibitively costly as heterospecific competitors and predators continue to recover in Gorongosa. Our results suggest that behavior can provide a leading indicator of the onset of density‐dependent limitation and the likelihood of subsequent population decline, but that reliable inference hinges on understanding the mechanistic basis of observed behavioral shifts.

    « less