Diet shift of a facultative scavenger, the wolverine, following recolonization of wolves

Authors


*Correspondence author: Jiska van Dijk. E-mail: jiska.van.dijk@nina.no

Summary

  • 1Wolves Canis lupus L. recolonized the boreal forests in the southern part of the Scandinavian peninsula during the late 1990s, but so far there has been little attention to its effect on ecosystem functioning. Wolf predation increases the availability of carcasses of large prey, especially moose Alces alces L., which may lead in turn to a diet switch in facultative scavengers such as the wolverine Gulo gulo L.
  • 2Using 459 wolverine scats collected during winter–spring 2001–04 for DNA identity and dietary contents, we compared diet inside and outside wolf territories while controlling for potential confounding factors, such as prey density. We tested the hypothesis that wolverine diet shifted towards moose in the presence of wolves, while taking into account possible sexual segregation between the sexes. Occurrence of reindeer, moose and small prey was modelled against explanatory covariates using logistic mixed-effects models. Furthermore, we compared diet composition and breadth among habitats and sexes.
  • 3Occurrence of reindeer, moose and small prey in the diet varied with prey availability and habitat. As expected, diet contained more moose and less reindeer and small prey in the presence of wolves. Their diet in tundra consisted of 40% reindeer Rangifer tarandus L., 39% moose and 9% rodents. In forest with wolf, their diet shifted to 76% moose, 18% reindeer and 5% rodents; compared to 42% moose, 32% reindeer and 15% rodents in forest without wolf. This diet switch could not be explained by higher moose density in wolf territories. Female diet consisted of more small prey than for males, but there was a tendency for females to use the highly available moose carrion opportunistically and to hunt less on small prey within wolf territories.
  • 4Our study highlights how wolves increase scavenging opportunities for wolverines, and how sexual differences in diet may also apply to large scavengers. Due to their more restricted home range, female wolverines are forced to rely more on hunting small prey. The relatively high occurrence of wolf kills, however, forms an important food source to wolverines in this area. The recolonization of wolves may therefore have contributed to the consequent recolonization of wolverines into the same area.

Ancillary