Landscape Influence on Canis Morphological and Ecological Variation in a Coyote-Wolf C. lupus × latrans Hybrid Zone, Southeastern Ontario
Keywords:Coyote, Canis latrans, Gray Wolf, Canis lupus, hybridization, road density, morphology, landscape influence, Ontario
AbstractThe ecology of Coyote-Wolf (Canis latrans × C. lupus) hybrids has never fully been typified. We studied morphological and ecological variation in Canis within a region of Coyote-Wolf hybridization in southeastern Ontario. We assessed Canis morphology from standard body measurements and ten skull measurements of adult specimens and found that Canis in this region are morphologically intermediate between Algonquin Provincial Park Wolves (C. lupus lycaon) and Coyotes, indicating a latrans × lycaon hybrid origin; however, there is a closer morphological affinity to latrans than lycaon. Analysis of 846 scats indicated dietary habits also intermediate between lycaon and Coyotes. We used a geographic information system (GIS) to assess spatial landscape features (road density, land cover and fragmentation) for six study sites representing three landscape types. We found noticeable variation in Canis morphology and diet in different landscape types. In general, canids from landscape type A (lowest road density, more total forest cover, less fragmentation) displayed more Wolf-like body morphology and consumed a greater proportion of larger prey (Beaver [Castor canadensis] and White-tailed Deer [Odocoileus virginianus]). In comparison, canids from landscape types B and C (higher road density and/or less total forest cover, more fragmentation) were generally more Coyote-like in body and skull morphology and made greater use of medium to small-sized prey (Groundhog [Marmota monax], Muskrat [Ondatra zibethicus] and lagomorphs). These landscape trends in Canis types suggest selection against Wolf-like traits in fragmented forests with high road density. The range of lycaon southeast of Algonquin Provincial Park appears to be limited primarily due to human access and consequent exploitation. We suggest that road density is the best landscape indicator of Canis types in this region of sympatric, hybridizing and unprotected Canis populations.
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