Prey switching of sympatric canids in response to variable prey abundance

Randa, L. A., D. M. Cooper, P. L. Meserve, and J. A. Yunger

We investigated the effects of fluctuating prey numbers on the foraging strategies and potential mechanisms for coexistence of 2 sympatric predators, coyotes (Canis latrans) and red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), in a heterogeneous environment in northeastern Illinois. We quantified the availability of mammalian and avian prey across different habitats, analyzed scats collected along standardized routes for occurrence of prey items, and estimated the number and biomass of vertebrate prey consumed. Abundances of the most frequently consumed prey (voles, rabbits, and mice) differed significantly over time, especially in relation to an ice storm that occurred during the study. Coyotes and red foxes tended to select voles and rabbits in number, rabbits in biomass, and incorporated greater numbers and biomass of other prey such as deer, pheasants, and sciurids after the ice storm. Log-linear analyses indicated that both coyotes and red foxes exhibited switching behavior, with differential shifts among the number and biomass of alternative prey they consumed. Hence, foraging strategies of coyotes and red foxes appeared to be a combination of prey selectivity and switching behavior. Our study suggests that competition between coyotes and red foxes for similar primary prey species and limited environments to exploit at the urban–rural interface may contribute to displacement of red foxes by coyotes.

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Randa, L. A., D. M. Cooper, P. L. Meserve, and J. A. Yunger. 2009. Prey switching of sympatric canids in response to variable prey abundance. Journal of Mammalogy 90:954-603.