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Assessing the influence of prey–predator ratio, prey age structure and packs size on wolf kill rates

Authors


H. Sand, Grimsö Wildlife Research Station, Dept of Ecology, Swedish Univ. of Agricultural Sciences, SE-73091 Riddarhyttan, Sweden. E-mail:hakan.sand@ekol.slu.se

Abstract

Traditional predation theory assumes that prey density is the primary determinant of kill rate. More recently, the ratio of prey-to-predator has been shown to be a better predictor of kill rate. However, the selective behavior of many predators also suggests that age structure of the prey population should be an important predictor of kill rate. We compared wolf–moose predation dynamics in two sites, south-central Scandinavia (SCA) and Isle Royale, Lake Superior, North America (IR), where prey density was similar, but where prey age structure and prey-to-predator ratio differed. Per capita kill rates of wolves preying on moose in SCA are three times greater than on IR. Because SCA and IR have similar prey densities differences in kill rate cannot be explained by prey density. Instead, differences in kill rate are explained by differences in the ratio of prey-to-predator, pack size and age structure of the prey populations. Although ratio-dependent functional responses was an important variable for explaining differences in kill rates between SCA and IR, kill rates tended to be higher when calves comprised a greater portion of wolves’ diet (p =0.05). Our study is the first to suggest how age structure of the prey population can affect kill rate for a mammalian predator. Differences in age structure of the SCA and IR prey populations are, in large part, the result of moose and forests being exploited in SCA, but not in IR. While predator conservation is largely motivated by restoring trophic cascades and other top–down influences, our results show how human enterprises can also alter predation through bottom–up processes.

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