Assessing differential prey selection patterns between two sympatric large carnivores


  • Jason S. Husseman,

  • Dennis L. Murray,

  • Gary Power,

  • Curt Mack,

  • C. R. Wenger,

  • Howard Quigley

J. S. Husseman and D. L. Murray, Dept of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Univ. of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-1136, USA ( Present address of DLM: Depts of Biology and Environmental and Resource Studies, Trent Univ., Peterborough, ON, K9J 7B8 Canada. – G. Power, Lemhi County Winter Predator Study, Salmon, ID 83467, USA. – C. M. Mack, Nez Perce Tribe, PO Box 365, Lapwai, ID 83501, USA. – C. R. Wenger, USDA Forest Service, Salmon-Challis National Forest, Salmon, ID 83467, USA. – H. Quigley, Hornocker Wildlife Institute, Bozeman, MT 59718, USA.


Several conceptual models describing patterns of prey selection by predators have been proposed, but such models rarely have been tested empirically, particularly with terrestrial carnivores. We examined patterns of prey selection by sympatric wolves (Canis lupus) and cougars (Puma concolor) to determine i) if both predators selected disadvantaged prey disproportionately from the prey population, and ii) if the specific nature and intensity of prey selection differed according to disparity in hunting behavior between predator species. We documented prey characteristics and kill site attributes of predator kills during winters 1999–2001 in Idaho, and located 120 wolf-killed and 98 cougar-killed ungulates on our study site. Elk (Cervus elephus) were the primary prey for both predators, followed by mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). Both predators preyed disproportionately on elk calves and old individuals; among mule deer, wolves appeared to select for fawns, whereas cougars killed primarily adults. Nutritional status of prey, as determined by percent femur marrow fat, was consistently poorer in wolf-killed prey. We found that wolf kills occurred in habitat that was more reflective of the entire study area than cougar kills, suggesting that the coursing hunting behavior of wolves likely operated on a larger spatial scale than did the ambush hunting strategy of cougars. We concluded that the disparity in prey selection and hunting habitat between predators probably was a function of predator-specific hunting behavior and capture success, where the longer prey chases and lower capture success of wolf packs mandated a stronger selection for disadvantaged prey. For cougars, prey selection seemed to be limited primarily by prey size, which could be a function of the solitary hunting behavior of this species and the risks associated with capturing prime-aged prey.