Date of Award:
Master of Science (MS)
Across North America large carnivores have lost nearly half of their historic range, creating openings for smaller (< 15 kg) carnivores to take over their ecological roles. Coyotes (Canis latrans) have seen a significant range expansion, including into arid deserts. It was believed that the addition of artificial water sources by humans allowed coyotes to expand into desert ecosystems where they were previously unable to survive. The kit fox (Vulpes macrotis) is a small, desert-adapted carnivore with declining populations that faces threats from coyotes of intraguild predation. This is when carnivores compete over the same prey, and the larger carnivore (intraguild predator) kills the smaller carnivore (intraguild prey). Intraguild prey have different habitat selection strategies to balance nutrient intake and risk of predation. Intraguild predators typically display a ‘resource match’ where they choose habitats that have high prey abundance. Intraguild prey can either resource match as well or ‘safety match,’ where they avoid areas of high prey abundance due to high predation risk. Researchers proposed that removing artificial water sources would force coyotes to abandon the surrounding areas and thus remove the threat of intraguild predation for kit foxes. However, water manipulation was not found to influence coyotes at a large scale. We used four years (2010-2013) of data collected in the Great Basin Desert to 1) test if coyotes changed fine scale habitat selection following water removal and 2) examine how prey abundance and predation risk influenced kit fox habitat. We found that coyotes did not adjust their distance to water sources post-water removal, which showed that water did not influence fine-scale coyote habitat selection. Our results, in combination with previous research, suggest that coyotes are desert-adapted carnivores that do not need artificial water sources to survive in arid ecosystems. Coyotes selected for areas that provide refuge from humans. We wanted to evaluate the habitat selection strategies exhibited by kit foxes within the intraguild predation framework (i.e., resource/safety match). We found a small positive relationship between kit fox habitat selection and predation risk. We found that kit foxes avoided areas with high small mammal abundance and preferred high rabbit abundance. These mixed results did not completely support any individual selection strategy. Great Basin Desert kit foxes may demonstrate varying matching strategies at different spatial scales, but more research is necessary to confirm.
Pershyn, Nadine A., "Habitat Selection by Desert Carnivores: How Water, Intraguild Predation, and Prey Impact Animal Space Use" (2023). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations, Spring 1920 to Summer 2023. 8739.
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