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The scale-dependent impact of wolf predation risk on resource selection by three sympatric ungulates


Resource selection is a fundamental ecological process impacting population dynamics and ecosystem structure. Understanding which factors drive selection is vital for effective species- and landscape-level management. We used resource selection probability functions (RSPFs) to study the influence of two forms of wolf (Canis lupus) predation risk, snow conditions and habitat variables on white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), elk (Cervus elaphus) and moose (Alces alces) resource selection in central Ontario’s mixed forest French River-Burwash ecosystem. Direct predation risk was defined as the frequency of a predator’s occurrence across the landscape and indirect predation risk as landscape features associated with a higher risk of predation. Models were developed for two winters, each at two spatial scales, using a combination of GIS-derived and ground-measured data. Ungulate presence was determined from snow track transects in 64 16- and 128 1-km2 resource units, and direct predation risk from GPS radio collar locations of four adjacent wolf packs. Ungulates did not select resources based on the avoidance of areas of direct predation risk at any scale, and instead exhibited selection patterns that tradeoff predation risk minimization with forage and/or mobility requirements. Elk did not avoid indirect predation risk, while both deer and moose exhibited inconsistent responses to this risk. Direct predation risk was more important to models than indirect predation risk but overall, abiotic topographical factors were most influential. These results indicate that wolf predation risk does not limit ungulate habitat use at the scales investigated and that responses to spatial sources of predation risk are complex, incorporating a variety of anti-predator behaviours. Moose resource selection was influenced less by snow conditions than cover type, particularly selection for dense forest, whereas deer showed the opposite pattern. Temporal and spatial scale influenced resource selection by all ungulate species, underlining the importance of incorporating scale into resource selection studies.

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Funding for the project was provided by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Collaborative Research Opportunities grant, Discovery grant and PGS–Master’s scholarship (A. M. K.), as well as by the National Science Foundation (IRCEB grant 0078130). Crucial field assistance was provided by M. Hartmann, B. Cox, A. Watson, S. Wyshinski and P. Kirzan. We thank Bighorn Helicopters for animal capture services and the pilots and staff of Central North Airways for fixed wing telemetry flights. Finally, we thank L. Borger, B. Dalziel, M. Drever, C. Johnson, K. McCann, B. Patterson, J. Shuter and two anonymous reviewers for helpful discussion and reviews of past manuscript drafts. All research was conducted with authorization from, and in accordance with, appropriate University and Provincial legislation and policies.

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Correspondence to Andrew M. Kittle.

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Communicated by Steven Kohler.

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Kittle, A.M., Fryxell, J.M., Desy, G.E. et al. The scale-dependent impact of wolf predation risk on resource selection by three sympatric ungulates. Oecologia 157, 163–175 (2008).

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  • Antipredator behaviour
  • Ecological tradeoff
  • Limiting factors
  • Predator avoidance
  • Spatial dynamics