Trophic cascades linking wolves (Canis lupus), coyotes (Canis latrans), and small mammals

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When large carnivores are extirpated from ecosystems that evolved with apex predators, these systems can change at the herbivore and plant trophic levels. Such changes across trophic levels are called cascading effects and they are very important to conservation. Studies on the effects of reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone National Park have examined the interaction pathway of wolves (Canis lupus L., 1758) to ungulates to plants. This study examines the interaction effects of wolves to coyotes to rodents (reversing mesopredator release in the absence of wolves). Coyotes (Canis latrans Say, 1823) generally avoided areas near a wolf den. However, when in the proximity of a den, they used woody habitats (pine or sage) compared with herbaceous habitats (grass or forb or sedge)– when they were away from the wolf den. Our data suggested a significant increase in rodent numbers, particularly voles (genus Microtus Schrank, 1798), during the 3-year study on plots that were within 3 km of the wolf den, but we did not detect a significant change in rodent numbers over time for more distant plots. Predation by coyotes may have depressed numbers of small mammals in areas away from the wolf den. These factors indicate a top–down effect by wolves on coyotes and subsequently on the rodents of the area. Restoration of wolves could be a powerful tool for regulating predation at lower trophic levels.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Wind River Ranch Foundation, P.O. Box 27, Watrous, NM 87753, USA; Denver Zoological Foundation, 2300 Steele Street, Denver, CO 80205, USA. 2: University of Wyoming, Department of Zoology and Physiology, Box 3166, University Station, Laramie, WY 80271, USA. 3: USGS, Fort Collins Science Center, 2150 Centre Avenue, Building C, Fort Collins, CO 80526, USA. 4: Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.

Publication date: January 5, 2012

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