Exploitation of marine resources by wolves in southwestern Alaska

Dominique E. Watts & Seth D. Newsome

Predation by large carnivores is a dominant factor shaping wildlife communities and an understanding of local foraging strategies of predators is central to the management of wildlife populations. Information on local foraging strategies is particularly important where carnivores might exploit alternate resources that could influence predator–prey interactions, carnivore population dynamics, and a variety of interactions at lower trophic levels. We used carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) values in serially sampled wolf (Canis lupus) vibrissae to quantify relative resource use and dietary variation among wolves (n = 115) from 4 areas in southwestern Alaska that differed in the availability of terrestrial and marine resources. Mean vibrissae isotope values varied by ~8‰ for δ13C and ~12‰ for δ15N and showed high levels of spatial, seasonal, and individual variation. While results showed that ungulates were the principal prey for wolves in all 4 areas, wolves also exploited a variety of alternate marine resources that represented an important component of wolf diets in some areas. Estimated dietary contributions from marine resources ranged from 28% to 56% among areas and use of these resources varied both spatially and seasonally. Dietary variation and use of marine resources increased from northeast to southwest along the Alaska Peninsula with increasing access to coastal areas and decreasing ungulate abundance. Seasonal shifts in resource use were also evident with dietary variation being highest during summer and fall when wolves consumed more alternate resources than during winter. Our findings suggest that use of marine resources and local variation in foraging strategies of wolves might, through a variety of pathways, have broad implications for the management of wolf–ungulate communities in southwestern Alaska.

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Dominique E. Watts & Seth D. Newsome. 2017. Exploitation of marine resources by wolves in southwestern Alaska. Journal of Mammalogy 98(1):66-76.