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Mississippi State University

Coyote (Canis latrans)

Home Range and Habitat Use


Results

We captured 53 coyotes from 1993-97 and radioed 38 adults (20 male, 18 female). Of 38 coyotes radiomarked, we lost radio-contact with 13. Harvest of coyotes leaving the study area sport hunters indicated that several individuals (n=3) dispersed considerable distances from their respective capture sites (20-km, 56-km, and 91-km, respectively).

We estimated 60 seasonal home ranges and core areas for 18 adult coyotes (10 male, 8 females) from 1993-97. Home range size did not differ across seasons (P = 0.681), but did between sexes (P = 0.006) with females maintaining larger home ranges. Similarly, core area size did not differ across seasons (P = 0.736), but did between sexes (P = 0.001) with females maintaining larger core areas.

During breeding-gestation, coyotes selected 9-15 year-old and mature pine stands when establishing home ranges. During whelping-pup rearing, mature pine and 9-15 year old pine stands were most selected, whereas "other" habitats were least selected. During fall-winter, mature pine stands were most selected; however, selection did not differ from that of 9-15 year-old pine stands, mature hardwood stands, mixed stands, and "other" habitats.

Selection of habitats within core areas did not differ relative to home range availability during breeding-gestation (P = 0.497) or whelping-pup rearing (P = 0.186). However, habitat composition within core areas differed (P = 0.021) from home range composition during fall-winter. Coyotes selected core areas with greater proportions of mixed, mature pine, and 9-15 year old pine habitats than availability within the home range during fall-winter.

Habitat use within home ranges did not differ from home range availability during breeding-gestation (P = 0.307). However, use differed from home range availability during whelping-pup rearing (P = 0.003) and fall-winter (P = 0.023). During whelping-pup rearing, coyotes used all habitat types except "other" similar to availability within the home range. During fall-winter, 0-8 year-old and mature pine stands were used greater than the availability within the home range, whereas 16-29 year-old pine stands were least used.

Summary

Some previous research has indicated that males maintain larger home ranges, whereas others have suggested the reverse. Similarly, we observed larger home ranges and core areas by females. However, although earlier coyote research in Georgia noted largest home ranges during dispersal seasons, we observed a lack of season-specific differences in coyote home ranges on TWMA and GP. We suggest that seasonal habitat selection likely influenced sex-specific home range and core area characteristics on TWMA and GP.

Coyotes are omnivorous and research throughout the species' geographic range has indicated that coyotes select a variety of habitats owing to their opportunistic foraging behaviors. Thus, it was not surprising that habitat composition within coyote home ranges was not different than the composition of habitats on TWMA across seasons. However, coyotes did consistently select 9-15 year-old and mature pine stands within seasons when establishing home ranges and core areas. Additionally, our data suggest that coyote core areas contain similar habitat composition as home ranges, indicating that coyotes on TWMA and GP selected a variety of habitat types when establishing core areas. However, use differed from availability of habitats within the home range during whelping-pup rearing and fall-winter, suggesting that coyotes used habitats differently during these seasons. These observations suggest that, based on macrohabitat types alone, coyotes established home ranges and core areas similar to habitat availability across TWMA, but used specific habitat types differently during specific seasons.

Research throughout the coyote's geographic range has reported a preference for habitats with high prey abundance and habitat selection during pup-rearing may relate to availability of den sites. Some researchers have suggested that the increased use of mature pine plantations during summer may be a function of increased availability of den sites in these habitats. Whether den sites on TWMA were more prevalent in mature pine stands is unclear; however, coyotes selected mature pine habitats when establishing home ranges and core areas during whelping-pup rearing. Conversely, the selection of 9-15 year-old and mature pine stands at all 3 spatial scales may have resulted from greater prey abundance. Controlled burning rotations within mature pine stands on TWMA average 6.5 years and burning on GP is practically non-existent. Hence, understory composition often shifts to predominately vine, specifically blackberry and dewberry. Coyotes readily consume blackberries on TWMA and GP. Locating and consuming fruits may require less energy costs relative to searching for alternate prey. Hence, coyotes likely improve foraging efficiency by selecting habitats with high availability of fruits.

Management Implications

Coyotes on TWMA selected a variety of habitats, consistent with the opportunism displayed by the species throughout its geographic range. However, various age pine stands appeared important to coyotes at all spatial scales during all seasons. Management schemes directed at coyote populations in the southeastern United States should recognize these habitat selection patterns.