The influence of prey consumption and demographic stochasticity on population growth rate of Isle Royale wolves Canis lupus

Authors

  • John A. Vucetich,

  • Rolf O. Peterson


J. A. Vucetich and R. O. Peterson, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological Univ., Houghton, MI 49931, USA (javuceti@mtu.edu)

Abstract

The relationship between the rates of prey capture and predator population growth is a fundamental aspect of predation, yet it is rarely measured for vertebrate predators. For the isolated wolf population on Isle Royale, annual variation in kill rate explains 22% of the variation in wolf population growth rate. From the slope of this relationship, we estimate that the production efficiency (ratio of production to respiration) of wolves is between 0.5% and 1.5%. More generally, we assess the relative extent to which wolf population growth rate is affected by density dependence, prey availability (moose, Alces alces), winter weather, and demographic stochasticity. Prey availability explains the most variation in wolf growth rate (42%), but this is only recognized after accounting for the influence of a disease-induced population crash and age structure of the prey population (i.e. number of vulnerable moose, >9 years of age). Demographic stochasticity accounts for approximately 30% of the variation in wolf growth rate. This recognition is important, but not surprising, given that the average population size of Isle Royale wolves is 22. Previous work indicates that the effect of winter climate, as mediated through prey vulnerability and kill rates, is substantial. This work indicates that the direct effect of winter climate is weak, and explains only about 4% of the variation in wolf growth rate (P=0.10).

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