Resource dispersion and consumer dominance: scavenging at wolf- and hunter-killed carcasses in Greater Yellowstone, USA




The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the northern Rocky Mountains provides the context for a natural experiment to investigate the response of consumers to resources with differing spatial and temporal dispersion regimes. Grey wolves (Canis lupus) and human hunters both provide resource subsidies to scavengers by provisioning them with the remains of their kills. Carrion from hunter kills is highly aggregated in time and space whereas carrion from wolf kills is more dispersed in both time and space. We estimated the total amount of carrion consumed by each scavenger species at both wolf and hunter kills over 4 years. Species with large feeding radii [bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and ravens (Corvus corax)], defined as the area over which a consumer can efficiently locate and integrate resources, dominated consumption at the highly aggregated hunter kills whereas competitively dominant species [coyotes (Canis latrans)] dominated at the more dispersed wolf kills. In addition, species diversity and the evenness of carrion consumption between scavengers was greater at wolf kills than at hunter kills while the total number of scavengers at hunter kills exceeded those at wolf kills. From a community perspective, the top–down effect of predation is likely to be stronger in the vicinity of highly aggregated resource pulses as species with large feeding radii switch to feeding on alternative prey once the resource pulse subsides.