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Ecological Society of America

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Predator space use influences ecosystem dynamics, and a fundamental goal assumed for a foraging predator is to maximize encounter rate with prey. This can be achieved by disproportionately utilizing areas of high prey density or, where prey are mobile and therefore spatially unpredictable, utilizing patches of their prey's preferred resources. A third, potentially complementary strategy is to increase mobility by using linear features like roads and/or frozen waterways. Here, we used novel population-level predator utilization distributions (termed "localized density distributions") in a single-predator (Wolf), two-prey (moose and caribou) system to evaluate these space-use hypotheses. The study was conducted in contrasting sections of a large boreal forest area in northern Ontario, Canada, with a spatial gradient of human disturbances and predator and prey densities. Our results indicated that wolves consistently used forest stands preferred by moose, their main prey species in this part of Ontario. Direct use of prey-rich areas was also significant but restricted to where there was a high local density of moose, whereas use of linear features was pronounced where local moose density was lower. These behaviors suggest that Wolf foraging decisions, while consistently influenced by spatially anchored patches of prey forage resources, were also determined by local ecological conditions, specifically prey density. Wolves appeared to utilize prey-rich areas when regional preferred prey density exceeded a threshold that made this profitable, whereas they disproportionately used linear features that promoted mobility when low prey density made directly tracking prey distribution unprofitable.