Funded Research Projects: WILDLIFE SCIENCE

Do wolves indirectly affect mule deer fawn survival by modifying coyote predation?

Research Sponsored By: Seattle City Light
Principal Investigator: Aaron Wirsing
Project Description
Ecologists have identified the need for more research on the effects of predation in structuring ecosystems. The return of wolves to Washington state creates the unique opportunity to investigate the impacts of a recolonizing top predator on ungulate populations via regulation of mesopredators, such as coyotes. This phenomenon has yet to be examined with deer in North America. We will investigate the connection between wolves, coyotes and mule deer on the Colville Indian Reservation and Okanogan National Forest in northeastern Washington. We will compare coyote abundance, distribution and diet, as well as fawn survival, in areas with and without wolves to test whether suppression of coyotes, a widespread mesopredator, occurs in areas with wolves and if this leads indirectly to increased survival of deer fawns. Coyotes are a major predator on young deer, whereas wolves prefer to take adults. This research is timely for wildlife conservation and management as wolves renew their presence in the West. The results from this study can inform wildlife management policy for wolves, still an endangered species in Washington state, and deer, an economically important game species throughout the west.