Trophic facilitation by introduced top predators: grey wolf subsidies to scavengers in Yellowstone National Park

Authors

  • Christopher C. Wilmers,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720–3112, USA,
      C. C. Wilmers, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, 201 Wellman Hall #3112, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720–3112, USA. Tel: 510-381-8640; Fax: 510-642-7428; E-mail: cwilmers@nature.berkeley.edu
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  • Robert L. Crabtree,

    1. Yellowstone Ecological Research Center, 7500 Jarmen Circle, Suite 2, Bozeman, MT 59715, USA, and
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  • Douglas W. Smith,

    1. Yellowstone Center for Resources, Wolf Project, PO Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82910, USA
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  • Kerry M. Murphy,

    1. Yellowstone Center for Resources, Wolf Project, PO Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82910, USA
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  • Wayne M. Getz

    1. Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720–3112, USA,
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C. C. Wilmers, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, 201 Wellman Hall #3112, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720–3112, USA. Tel: 510-381-8640; Fax: 510-642-7428; E-mail: cwilmers@nature.berkeley.edu

Summary

  • 1The reintroduction of grey wolves Canis lupus (L.) to Yellowstone National Park provides a natural experiment in which to study the effects of a keystone predator on ecosystem function.
  • 2Grey wolves often provision scavengers with carrion by partially consuming their prey.
  • 3In order to examine how grey wolf foraging behaviour influences the availability of carrion to scavengers, we observed consumption of 57 wolf-killed elk Cervus elaphus (L.) and determined the percentage of edible biomass eaten by wolves from each carcass.
  • 4We found that the percentage of a carcass consumed by wolves increases as snow depth decreases and the ratio of wolf pack size to prey size and distance to the road increases. In addition, wolf packs of intermediate size provide the most carrion to scavengers.
  • 5Applying linear regression models to the years prior to reintroduction, we calculate carrion biomass availability had wolves been present, and contrast this to a previously published index of carrion availability. Our results demonstrate that wolves increase the time period over which carrion is available, and change the variability in scavenge from a late winter pulse dependent primarily on abiotic environmental conditions to one that is relatively constant across the winter and primarily dependent on wolf demographics. Wolves also decrease the year-to-year and month-to-month variation in carrion availability.
  • 6By transferring the availability of carrion from the highly productive late winter, to the less productive early winter and from highly productive years to less productive ones, wolves provide a temporal subsidy to scavengers.

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