Body size and predatory performance in wolves: is bigger better?
Article first published online: 13 JAN 2009
© 2009 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2009 British Ecological Society
Journal of Animal Ecology
Volume 78, Issue 3, pages 532–539, May 2009
How to Cite
MacNulty, D. R., Smith, D. W., Mech, L. D. and Eberly, L. E. (2009), Body size and predatory performance in wolves: is bigger better?. Journal of Animal Ecology, 78: 532–539. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2008.01517.x
- Issue published online: 31 MAR 2009
- Article first published online: 13 JAN 2009
- Received 2 August 2008; accepted 9 December 2008Handling Editor: Andrew Beckerman
- predator ontogeny;
- size-dependent foraging ability;
- 1Large body size hinders locomotor performance in ways that may lead to trade-offs in predator foraging ability that limit the net predatory benefit of larger size. For example, size-related improvements in handling prey may come at the expense of pursuing prey and thus negate any enhancement in overall predatory performance due to increasing size.
- 2This hypothesis was tested with longitudinal data from repeated observations of 94 individually known wolves (Canis lupus) hunting elk (Cervus elaphus) in Yellowstone National Park, USA. Wolf size was estimated from an individually based sex-specific growth model derived from body mass measurements of 304 wolves.
- 3Larger size granted individual wolves a net predatory advantage despite substantial variation in its effect on the performance of different predatory tasks; larger size improved performance of a strength-related task (grappling and subduing elk) but failed to improve performance of a locomotor-related task (selecting an elk from a group) for wolves > 39 kg.
- 4Sexual dimorphism in wolf size also explained why males outperformed females in each of the three tasks considered (attacking, selecting, and killing).
- 5These findings support the generalization that bigger predators are overall better hunters, but they also indicate that increasing size ultimately limits elements of predatory behaviour that require superior locomotor performance. We argue that this could potentially narrow the dietary niche of larger carnivores as well as limit the evolution of larger size if prey are substantially more difficult to pursue than to handle.