Coyote prey selection and community stability during a decline in food supply


  • Laura R. Prugh

L. R. Prugh, Dept of Zoology, Univ. of British Columbia, 6270 University Blvd, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T 1Z4 (


The foraging behavior of predators can have a large influence on community dynamics and has been shown to increase stability in some cases and decrease stability in others. I studied the foraging behavior of coyotes (Canis latrans) in the Alaska Range during the peak and decline of a snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) population cycle (1999–2002). Coyote diet was compared with prey availability to test for changes in prey selection and to examine the effect of coyote predation on the vertebrate prey community. Coyotes responded to the hare decline by increasing selection for hares and porcupines, whereas selection for voles, ground squirrels and Dall sheep did not change. Although the study area was characterized by considerable habitat heterogeneity, coyotes utilized the area as a fine-grained environment. Coyote foraging behavior was driven primarily by changes in snowshoe hare abundance, and their sensitivity to change in alternative prey density was low. Predation by coyotes may therefore decrease the stability of alternative prey populations rather than dampening fluctuations. In order for predation to enhance the stability of prey populations, I hypothesize that prey profitability must be determined primarily by abundance.