EEB 522 Seminar Series- Taal Levi

Species Interactions Among Carnivores
Nov 9, 2023, 12:30 pm1:30 pm
Guyot 10
Open to public



Event Description

Over the past 100 years, ecology has evolved from the view that energy flows up foodwebs to support higher trophic levels toward a recognition that top-down forcing from predators can transform ecosystems by, for instance, suppressing primary consumers and releasing producers. More recently, the ecosystem-level consequences of interactions among carnivores have been explored. I will discuss two detailed case studies of interactions among carnivores.

(1) Mesopredator release theory suggests that dominant predators suppress subordinate carnivores and ultimately shape community dynamics, but the assumption that subordinate species are only negatively affected ignores the possibility of facilitation through scavenging.  We examined the interplay within a carnivore community consisting of cougars, coyotes, black bears, and bobcats using contemporaneous Global Positioning System telemetry data from 51 individuals, diet analysis from 972 DNA-metabarcoded scats, and data from 128 physical investigations of cougar kill sites, 28 of which were monitored with remote cameras. Resource provisioning from competitively-dominant cougars to coyotes through scavenging was so prolific as to be an overwhelming determinant of coyote behavior, space use, and resource acquisition. This was evident via strong attraction of coyotes to cougar kill sites, frequent scavenging of cougar-killed prey, and coyote diets that nearly matched cougars in the magnitude of ungulate consumption. Yet coyotes were often killed by cougars and used space to minimize encounters, complicating the fitness benefits gained from scavenging. We estimated that 23% (95% CI: 8–55%) of the coyote population in our study area was killed by cougars annually suggesting that coyote interactions with cougars are a complex behavioral game of risk and reward. In contrast, we found no indication that bobcat space use or diet was influenced by cougars. Black bears avoided cougars, but there was no evidence of attraction to cougar kill sites, and much lower levels of ungulate consumption and carcass visitation than for coyotes.

(2) Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) and wolves (Canis lupus) are two apex predators with strong and cascading effects on ecosystem structure and function. After decades of recovery from near extirpation, their ranges now overlap, allowing sea otters and wolves to interact for the first time in the scientific record. We intensively studied wolves during 2015 to 2021 in an island system colonized by sea otters in the 2000s and by wolves in 2013. After wolf colonization, we quantified shifts in foraging behavior with DNA metabarcoding of 689 wolf scats and stable isotope analyses, both revealing a dietary switch from Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus), the terrestrial in situ primary prey, to sea otters. Here we show an unexpected result of the reintroduction and restoration of sea otters, which became an abundant marine subsidy for wolves following population recovery. The availability of sea otters allowed wolves to persist and continue to reproduce, subsequently nearly eliminating deer. Genotypes from 390 wolf scats and telemetry data from 13 wolves confirmed island fidelity constituting one of the highest known wolf population densities and upending standardly accepted wolf density predictions based on ungulate abundance. Whereas marine subsidies in other systems are generally derived from lower trophic levels, here an apex nearshore predator became a key prey species and linked nearshore and terrestrial food webs in a recently deglaciated and rapidly changing ecosystem. Finally, I will present new results from Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks in the Southwest Alaska mainland to test the generality and effect size of the wolf-sea otter interaction.

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