Mechanistic home range models capture spatial patterns and dynamics of coyote territories in Yellowstone

  • Moorcroft P
  • Lewis M
  • Crabtree R
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Patterns of space-use by individuals are fundamental to the ecology of animal populations influencing their social organization, mating systems, demography and the spatial distribution of prey and competitors. To date, the principal method used to analyse the underlying determinants of animal home range patterns has been resource selection analysis (RSA), a spatially implicit approach that examines the relative frequencies of animal relocations in relation to landscape attributes. In this analysis, we adopt an alternative approach, using a series of mechanistic home range models to analyse observed patterns of territorial space-use by coyote packs in the heterogeneous landscape of Yellowstone National Park. Unlike RSAs, mechanistic home range models are derived from underlying correlated random walk models of individual movement behaviour, and yield spatially explicit predictions for patterns of space-use by individuals. As we show here, mechanistic home range models can be used to determine the underlying determinants of animal home range patterns, incorporating both movement responses to underlying landscape heterogeneities and the effects of behavioural interactions between individuals. Our analysis indicates that the spatial arrangement of coyote territories in Yellowstone is determined by the spatial distribution of prey resources and an avoidance response to the presence of neighbouring packs. We then show how the fitted mechanistic home range model can be used to correctly predict observed shifts in the patterns of coyote space-use in response to perturbation.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Animal movement
  • Carnivora
  • Coyotes
  • Foraging behaviour
  • Mechanistic home range models
  • Territoriality

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