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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Virginia Tech Coyote study in western Virginia has been going on since 2011.............Interesting findings include the fact that persecuted Coyotes(human killing of them ) liklely increases the predation pressure on deer and other mammals as stable home ranges of the Coyotes get ruptured and the remaining Coyotes start to wander far and wide to recreate new home ranges............, This makes it harder for deer and other creatures to secure safe hiding spaces from the meandering Song Dogs................Coyote scat is revealing an omnivores diet with fruit as well as small mammals and deer............Researchers are unable to determine if the deer consumed is from direct kills or scavenged...................Fawns are being taken by all three of the top carnivores in the Virginia woodlands, Black Bears, Bobcats and Coyotes.....................The Coyote density of western Virginia is not high with individuals having home ranges of about 8 square miles............The Coyotes in these parts seem to be of the Western species with the largest tagged thus far at 39 pounds(Eastern coyotes can tip the scales from 25 up to 60 pounds)................More information on how Black Bears and Bobcats enter into deer predation is in the process of being evaluated and the final conclusions of this 3-predator prey study will be interesting to evaluate..............We will keep you apprised as more data is released to the public

Virginia Tech Office of the Vice President for Research      
301 Burruss Hall (0244), Blacksburg, Virginia 24061
Phone: 540/231-6077      Fax: 540/231-4384     
 July 2014

Coyote crossing

Relatively new to Virginia, coyotes are easy scapegoats for declining deer populations. But coyotes aren’t the only animals stalking the forests.

By Susan Trulove
Coyote, bobcat, and bear all want a piece of the hunting action in Virginia forests. Likewise, hunters of the two-legged variety trek through the same woods, looking to bag a trophy or fill a freezer with venison. But when the time comes to single out a culprit for the increasingly thin deer herds on public land, it is often the newcomer of the bunch — the coyote — in the crosshairs of blame.

Is Virginia’s newest forest predator getting a bad rap? Finding the answer will take special hunters armed with cameras, chemical and genetic analysis techniques, global positioning system collars, and the drive to spend many pre-dawn mornings in the forest.

Although long absent in Virginia, coyotes returned from the Midwest in the 1950s, trekking across the southern U.S. and then north, or across the northern Great Lakes region and then south.

By the late 1970s small populations were established — a homecoming hailed by naturalists, but frowned upon by deer hunters who came to suspect coyotes for the thinning deer population, particularly on public lands in Rockingham County.

Coyotes expanding their range is a natural process — but understanding how the animals fit into the environment requires special expertise.

To learn more, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries contacted predator expert Marcella Kelly, an associate professor of wildlife in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.

Using remotely triggered cameras, scat sampling, noninvasive genetic sampling, and radios or GPS/satellite collars to track animals, Kelly and her students study the dynamics of carnivore populations with the goal of helping humans and wild predators co-exist.

Virginia’s Bath and Rockingham counties have been the center of coyote and deer studies since 2011.

“The Virginia Appalachian Coyote Study is an opportunity to study the ecology of coyotes in addition to conducting surveys for deer and other prey across different habitat types,” Kelly said. “We are trying to take a broader ecosystem approach rather than study a single species.”

The insights they have obtained are welcome, according to Mike Fies, a wildlife research biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for 30 years, after having earned his master’s degree at Virginia Tech.

“It is a good partnership,” Fies continued. “DNA analysis and advanced statistics capabilities are examples of skills universities can provide that our department currently doesn’t possess. We provide the funds, general oversight, and logistical support such as trucks and lodging near the study area, but the students and their technicians do the hard work.”

Midnight riders

The hard work is not without excitement.
Researchers ride along forest roads in the middle of the night to survey deer and hike into the woods before dawn to trap coyotes. Encounters with bears and bobcats are a bonus.
Through it all, it becomes apparent that coyotes are a complicated species to study and manage, according to master’s student David Montague, whose research focus is coyote diet and deer populations.

“As top predators, they can have many beneficial impacts on their ecosystem, such as promoting diversity among prey communities and dispersing herbivores to reduce over-browsing in sensitive habitats,” said Montague, who has fished, hunted, trapped, and lived in Bath County.

“They are a charismatic species that some people enjoy seeing and encountering in the outdoors. However, the predatory nature of coyotes also tends to bring them into conflict with human interests, such as when coyotes damage livestock or prey on wildlife populations valued for hunting or other recreation. This combination of potentially beneficial versus damaging impacts is what causes a polarizing, love-hate response from people.

“As a researcher, manager, or conservationist, it’s a challenge to find middle ground among contradictory opinions,” Montague continued. “For me, that challenge was part of the attraction to this project.”

Dana Morin, a Virginia Tech doctoral student who is studying the coyote population in western Virginia, has captured 21 coyotes in Bath County during four trapping sessions since 2011 using snares and foot-hold traps that are cushioned to prevent injury.

“The coyote species in the East is the same as that from out West,” Morin said, explaining that coyotes are typically submissive — easily subdued by throwing a bed sheet over them, although she has used a catch-pole.

“The males are usually easier,” she said. “They cower down and I can get ahold of their head and shoulders.”

She then blindfolds the immobilized coyote and collects her research samples, as well as ticks for a research fellow at the Smithsonian Institution and hair for a biology professor at the Virginia Military Institute.

When finished, Morin puts a GPS collar on each animal and releases it. The collars usually send a location every five hours, but Morin can change the schedule remotely to collect locations up to every 30 minutes during times of interesting activity.

“The trapping success rates are really low in this area,” Morin said. “It requires persistence. We averaged one coyote per week during our trapping sessions, but sometimes there would be none for almost three weeks, then there would be three in two days.”

Knowing your scat

Not quite as exciting as pre-dawn coyote trappings but exceedingly informative is the dubious duty of collecting scat, which is the slightly less objectionable term for animal feces. The data in the droppings tell quite a story, but it’s not an obvious one.

Even though bear and bobcat prey on deer, some hunters think that coyotes are thinning the deer population based on seeing deer fur in scat.

Morin conducts DNA analysis on scat samples to identify each species and even each individual coyote, bobcat, and bear. Only about 20 percent of the more than 5,000 scat samples collected for the study are from coyotes, Morin said.
“I compare the genetic information from the scat to the animals we capture and fit with GPS collars and then use population models that incorporate detection over space and time to estimate density,” Morin said. “Is the population growing? What is the density? What is the birth rate? We determine that with models based on our collected data.”
Montague, meanwhile, is trying to relate the coyotes’ diet to the deer population.

He and undergraduate research fellows trapped and tagged small mammals at several locations in Bath County to estimate the abundance of mice, voles, and chipmunks. Better ground cover through forest management supports deer as well as smaller mammals that make up much of the coyote’s diet.

Montague also used motion- and heat-triggered cameras to survey squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and other species to get an idea of their activity and habitat use.

“I decided I had to look at the big picture — at other potential prey of coyotes — so I have been looking at small mammals in addition to deer,” he said. “In placing cameras, we targeted areas that have been treated with fire or timber management to assess the impacts of these techniques on coyote prey species, but we also maintained cameras in parts of the forest that have not been manipulated recently.”

Deer and squirrels were the most common wildlife photographed. But Montague has an unusual photo of an owl that happened to land within range, and of a whippoorwill at night. Images of fawns nursing and of locally uncommon species, like spotted skunks, have shown up in the photography.

Montague also has been counting deer in real time, with surveys in October, January, and April using distance sampling techniques.

Predators and prey

“We would travel a prescribed route — such as forest roads — measure the distance from the route to any deer we saw, and then do a series of statistical calculations to estimate the number of deer per acre or square mile,” he said.
Driving slowly along dirt roads at night, the research team used a thermal sensor called FLIR, short for forward-looking infrared, to locate deer.

“FLIR picks up the body heat of the deer or anything else,” he said. “It looks like a video camera. You look through it and see a gray landscape, then a bright white deer. When that happens, we stop, shine a spotlight on the deer, and use a laser range finder to get the distance. We did this every night for three weeks, three times a year.”

“The wildlife appears to be diverse for this area, but it is too early to report estimates of the deer populations in Bath and Rockingham counties or to determine whether surveyed deer sightings reflect reality,” Montague said.

Although mice are abundant in the area, preliminary analyses of scat show coyotes ate fewer mice than expected, instead feeding on chipmunks and voles more frequently. “If there are lots of alternative diet options, the coyote may be more likely to pursue them than deer,” he added.

Not everyone blames the coyotes for the decline in the deer population on forest lands in Rockingham County, Fies said, and overhunting by humans may not be the complete answer, either. Fies said hunting pressure generally declines when the availability of game decreases.

“The decline in deer numbers is likely the result of a combination of factors,” Fies said. “No doubt that the habitat has changed and is less suitable for deer. When you add potentially high predator numbers to the mix, it’s possible that losses from predation can have an effect on reproduction in these poor habitats.

“The coyote impact on deer numbers statewide is likely negligible, but if they have an effect anywhere, it would likely be in areas similar to those Dr. Kelly and her students are studying.”

Morin suspects there are more bobcats in the area than people realize because of the high-quality habitat for them. She reports that initial results indicate higher coyote densities in Bath County than in Rockingham County, “but neither are like out West,” she said. “The coyote population in our study area is actually pretty low-density. Each animal moves over such a large area, so people often think there are more than there actually are.”

Home on the range

Based on the first 14 coyotes trapped for the Appalachian study, some home ranges are stable and others are shifting. The average coyote home range in the study area is about eight square miles, but there was a lot of variation.

“A young female coyote had the largest territory,” Morin said. “One season, she ranged 600 square kilometers (373 square miles) every two weeks, moving in between other coyotes’ ranges. We think she was unable to find a territory until about a year later, and then settled in West Virginia.”

Overall, female coyotes in the study had larger home ranges than males. Home-range movements for all coyotes are smallest in the spring and summer when they have pups and largest in the fall and winter when they are looking for new territories and mates.

“One thing that interests me is determining what is happening to those coyotes that don’t have stable home ranges,” Morin said.

Typically, coyotes push ahead until they reach other coyotes’ territories, thereby creating a stable territory. Coyotes, as well as other predators, often behave like this; the population is regulated by competition with other coyotes and other predators.

But these shifting home ranges suggest something may be out of balance and affecting normal population regulation; it is likely related to the high mortality rate observed in the area. Of the original 14 coyotes collared, only four are still alive, and three of the seven collared in 2013 have already been killed.

When a coyote is killed, it may actually make deer more vulnerable to predation. “In other regions, deer often take refuge between coyotes’ and wolves’ stable home ranges,” she noted. “So if we have shifting home ranges, there may be fewer safe places for the deer to hide from predators.”

Coyotes: Guilty or not guilty?

“It’s too soon to tell,” said Montague, who is still studying scat and, in his words, identifying pieces and parts. “I am finding a diverse diet, including small mammals such as voles, a surprising amount of fruit like berries and apples, plus insects and deer. But I can’t say where the deer remains found in the scat are coming from. I can’t tell if it is from a coyote kill, road kill, or carcass remains dumped by a hunter.”

So deer remains found in coyotes droppings could be the result of hunting or scavenging. Adding to the puzzle is the fact that coyotes are not the sole predators of deer in the forest.

“There is no doubt that coyotes, bears, and bobcats eat fawns, based on direct observations of these animals killing fawns and the occurrence of fawn remains in their scat,” said Fies. “Most people don’t think of bears as fawn predators, but they have a great sense of smell and have been observed with their noses to the ground tracking deer and searching for fawns.
“While the effects of a single predator species may not be significant, it’s possible that the combined effects of three different predators killing fawns in areas with poor habitat are enough to knock deer populations back,” he continued. “That’s why it’s important to look at all three major fawn predators.”

It will be important to overlay the bear and bobcat scat location data with the coyote scat and movement location data to learn how the three predators interact.
“What is unique about this study,” said Fies, “is that researchers will have estimates of population density for all three predators and deer at the same time and in the same place. We won’t have to rely on anecdotal evidence. To my knowledge, this has not been done anywhere else.”

A multi-predator approach is an important next step.
“We can tell that the answer to the coyote-deer question is more complex than a two-species interaction,” Kelly said. “We hope to build on what we have already learned and expand the study by including multiple predators — coyotes, bobcats, and bears. That way we can gain a more thorough understanding of the ecosystem, especially in relation to its relative newcomer — the coyote.”
Primary financial support for this research is being provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries using funds from the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration Project. Other partners include the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, USDA Wildlife Services, University of Idaho, and Virginia Deer Hunters Association. Both David Montague and Dana Morin received scholarships from the Sussman Foundation, and Morin received a Cunningham Fellowship from the Virginia Tech Graduate School. In addition, the Virginia Appalachian Coyote Study mentored five Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows from the Fralin Life Science Institute at Virginia Tech over the past three years.
Dana Morin carefully holds coyote “C2” to take samples before the animal is released unharmed back into the wild. C2 was one of the larger coyotes captured, weighing 34 pounds. The largest captured in Bath County was an older male weighing 39 pounds.
Motion- and heat-triggered cameras reveal deer, coyotes, bear, and bobcat.
“C1,” a 3-year-old female coyote with a satellite collar that allows researchers to study her movements in the forests of Bath County.
David Montague sets up a remote-triggered camera, one of several in Bath County used to observe wildlife.
David Montague prepares to release a small mammal from a live trap. Researchers trapped small mammals four times per year to detect seasonal differences in their abundance and availability for predation by coyotes, bobcats, and bears.
Occasionally other species, including bobcats, were caught in foothold traps. “Non-targets” would be safely released and the trap reset.
To avoid leaving a human scent, the researchers wear gloves as they modify traps.

“We can tell that the answer to the coyote-deer question is more complex than a two-species interaction,” Kelly said. “We hope to build on what we have already learned and expand the study by including multiple predators — coyotes, bobcats, and bears. That way we can gain a more thorough understanding of the ecosystem, especially in relation to its relative newcomer, the coyote.”
– Marcella Kelly


click link below to go to article:

Coyote crossing:Are coyotes to blame for declining deer

 populations? Maybe not.

Virginia Tech Office of the Vice President for Research      
301 Burruss Hall (0244), Blacksburg, Virginia 24061
Phone: 540/231-6077      Fax: 540/231-4384     
 July 2014


Anonymous said...

You can do study after study with rigid scientific proof that predators are not seriously detrimental to prey(GAME ANIMALS that many human hunters selfishly want just for themselves); you can point out to anti-predator types that for MILLIONS OF YEARS animal predators and prey have coexisted without extinguishing one another; you could have GOD ALMIGHTY boom down from the heavens that animal predators are not to be vilified and exterminated henceforth; yet you would STILL have a majority of folks that will blindly ignore every bit of obvious evidence right in front of their noses on this subject! It just seems to be hard-wired in many primate genes to vilify predators other than themselves. One thing I find HILARIOUS(in a sad, stupid sort of way), are these articles in Hunting/Sporting magazines that bemoan deer overpopulation and the NEED for human hunters to control them in one article; then in another, how some predatory beasts(coyotes being the most popular to vilify just now) MUST be controlled/exterminated because they are destroying the deer herds! I actually saw two such articles back-to-back in the same issue of a magazine many years ago! I piss off a lot of people getting in HEATED discussions about this subject, but THEY have no problems being rude and loud about it(backed up by zero actual knowledge or facts), so I have learned to be just as rude and stubborn with my beliefs and preferences regarding animal populations and presence(usually backed by KNOWN FACTS)and in the importance and rights of animal predators. And I will add that indeed many human hunters have no problem sharing the woods and prey with animal predators, but alas, in my experiences, the majority DO NOT! And sometimes the ONLY WAY to get through to this bunch, is to be as loud and rude as they themselves are!....L.B.

Rick Meril said... spot on you are............It seems that since the REagan Presidency inthe 1980's, science and peer reviewed research and analysis is seen by the majority of people as hogwash..............Keep coming high, hard and loud with facts and your beliefs based on them