The Effect of Social Hierarchy on Captive Coyote (Canis latrans) Foraging Behavior



Lynne B. Gilbert-Norton, Department of Wildland Resources, 2810 Old Main Hill, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322, USA.



Foraging efficiency of individuals in pack forming species may be influenced by social dynamics within a pack. The effects of social hierarchy in particular may influence individual foraging behavior in canids, such as coyotes (Canis latrans). To examine the impact of social hierarchy on foraging behavior, we tested 16 captive coyotes in eight naturally established dominant–subordinate pairs, using the guesser–knower paradigm. We measured the efficiency of subordinate coyotes to relocate a food resource when alone and then allowed pairs to forage together, such that subordinates had prior knowledge of food location but dominants did not. To determine whether (1) subordinates used a direct or discursive strategy to obtain food in the presence of a dominant and (2) dominants used an exploitative or independent strategy to obtain food in the presence of a subordinate with previous knowledge, we measured their search efficiency (e.g., correct choice of area, feeder, and latency to correct feeder). Results showed subordinates learned to relocate food and increase efficiency when alone. In a social context, however, subordinate efficiency decreased. That is, subordinates approached the correct area, but searched more feeders before finding the correct one. Dominants initially used an independent search strategy but then quickly displaced the subordinate and monopolized the resource, reducing subordinate efficiency further. Despite continual displacement and reduction in efficiency, subordinates did not alter their foraging strategy over time. Our results suggest prior information can improve individual foraging advantage, but that social status strongly impacts individual foraging efficiency in social species such as coyotes.