Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Wildland Resources

Committee Chair(s)

John A. Shivik


John A. Shivik


Eric M. Gese


Karen H. Beard


Timothy A. Shahan


Carl D. Cheney


Many canids live within hierarchical social systems that could promote differences in learning or in behavior between ranked individuals. Differences in foraging and territorial behavior have been observed between ranked coyotes (Canis latrans), yet effects of learning and social status on coyote behavior are not thoroughly understood. I explored a) coyote response to an artificial scent boundary and whether response differed by status, b) how foraging coyotes tracked temporal resource change, and c) how coyotes find spatially distributed food, and the effect of dominance on foraging behavior. I used male/female pairs of captive coyotes at the National Wildlife Research Center Predator Research Facility in Utah. Prior to testing, I identified social rank within pairs by testing for food dominance. In study 1, I laid a scent boundary and monitored space use with GPS and observed behavioral responses directly. All coyotes investigated and crossed the boundary, but were repelled more by human presence. Subordinates investigated and marked the boundary more than dominants. Further investigation is needed to mimic natural boundaries for management purposes. In study 2, I gave eight individual coyotes an operant test with concurrent variable interval (VI) schedules. I varied the ratio of resources and measured the time spent on two choices, then fitted the generalized matching equation to the data. I found that all coyotes efficiently tracked changes in resource ratios and matched their relative rate of foraging time to relative rate of resources. Matching theory provides an effective methodology to explore foraging strategies and behavioral flexibility in coyotes. In study 3, I tested 16 coyotes in a spatial foraging task. Coyotes searched for food in eight potential locations, and were tested individually and in respective pairs. I recorded the area and number of locations searched, approach time, and frequency of marking by dominant and subordinate coyotes. Results showed individual subordinates increased efficiency by relocating, but their efficiency decreased when foraging in pairs. Dominant coyotes did not increase efficiency in company by following subordinates. Coyotes marked the correct feeder more than incorrect feeders. Results suggest coyotes use memory and odor (scent marks) to find food, but that social status overrules information use.