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Using Bayesian stable isotope mixing models to estimate wolf diet in a multi-prey ecosystem

Authors

  • Jonathan J. Derbridge,

    Corresponding author
    1. Boone and Crockett Fellow, Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. School of Natural Resources and the Environment, 325 Biological Sciences East, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.
    • Boone and Crockett Fellow, Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA.
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  • Paul R. Krausman,

    1. Boone and Crockett Professor of Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA
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  • Chris T. Darimont

    1. Environmental Studies Department, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA
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  • Associate Editor: Kevin McKelvey

Abstract

Stable isotope analysis (SIA) of wolf (Canis lupus) tissues can be used to estimate diet and intra-population diet variability when potential prey have distinct δ13C and δ15N values. We tested this technique using guard hairs collected from 44 wolves in 12 northwestern Montana packs, summer 2009. We used hierarchical Bayesian stable isotope mixing models to determine diet and scales of diet variation from δ13C and δ15N of wolves and potential prey, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), elk (Cervus canadensis), moose (Alces alces), snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), and other prey. As a check on SIA results, we conducted a separate diet analysis with temporally matched scats (i.e., collected in summer 2008) from 4 of the same packs. Wolves were centered on the ungulate prey in the isotope mixing space. Both methods revealed differences among pack diets and that wolves may consume moose in greater proportions than predicted by available biomass. Stable isotope analysis, and scat results were not entirely concordant; assumptions related to tissues of use in SIA, hair growth period in wolves, and scat sampling may have contributed to a mismatch between methods. Incorrect fractionation values, insufficient separation of prey in the isotope mixing space, choice of prior information in the Bayesian mixing models, and unexplained factors may have distorted diet estimates. However, the consistently high proportion of moose in pack diets suggests that increased population monitoring would benefit management of moose and wolves. Our results also support suggestions of other researchers that species-specific fractionation values should be used whenever possible, and that SIA may sometimes only provide indices of use for general groups of prey (e.g., large ungulates). © 2012 The Wildlife Society.

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