White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Subsidize Gray Wolves (Canis lupus) During a Moose (Alces americanus) Decline: A Case of Apparent Competition?
Keywords:Alces americanus, apparent competition, Canis lupus, diet, Gray Wolf, inverse-density-dependent predation, Min nesota, Moose, Odocoileus virginianus, scat, White-tailed Deer
Moose (Alces americanus) in northeastern Minnesota have declined by 55% since 2006. Although the cause is unresolved, some studies have suggested that Gray Wolves (Canis lupus) contributed to the decline. After the Moose decline, wolves could either decline or switch prey. To determine which occurred in our study area, we compared winter wolf counts and summer diet before and after the Moose decline. While wolf numbers in our study area nearly doubled from 23 in winter 2002 to an average of 41 during winters 2011–2013, calf:cow ratios (the number of calves per cow observed during winter surveys) in the wider Moose range more than halved from 0.93 in 2002 to an average of 0.31 during 2011–2013. Compared to summer 2002, wolves in summers 2011–2013 consumed fewer Moose and more White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus). While deer densities were similar during each period, average vulnerability, as reflected by winter severity, was greater during 2011–2013 than 2002, probably explaining the wolf increase. During the wolf increase Moose calves remained a summer food item. These findings suggest that in part of the Moose range, deer subsidized wolf numbers while wolves also preyed on Moose calves. This contributed to a Moose decline and is a possible case of apparent competition and inverse-density-dependent predation.
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