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Individual variation in the ecology of urban coyotes and implications for human-coyote conflict

  • Author / Creator
    Murray, Maureen H
  • As urbanization expands, many species are excluded from urban areas but others persist and even thrive. When these species overlap with humans in time, space, or resources, conflicts can arise such as vehicle collisions, loss of domestic animals, the spread of zoonotics, and concern for human safety. One species that thrives in urban areas and readily makes use of anthropogenic resources is the coyote (Canis latrans), an opportunistic carnivore that has attracted increasing interest by inhabiting many major cities. While coyotes typically avoid humans even in cities, they often consume anthropogenic food and exhibit a large degree of individual variation in their home ranges and use of residential areas. A better understanding of how and why coyotes vary in their overlap with people could help identify and mitigate precursors to human-coyote conflict and promote coexistence between humans and urban-adapted carnivores. I examined whether the consumption of anthropogenic food increases diet diversity and likelihood of encounters with people for coyotes by comparing the diets of urban and rural coyotes that were or were not reported as nuisance animals by the public. I then tested whether subadult, male, or diseased coyotes were more likely to use developed areas, be more active during the day, and consume anthropogenic food by capturing and fitting 19 coyotes with Global Positioning System (GPS) collars with 3-hour fix rates. I also measured selection for residential areas within the home range and for anthropogenic resources at sites used for feeding and resting. I examined the potential for food waste in compost piles to promote disease spread in coyotes by monitoring compost piles with remote cameras and compared contact rates between coyotes and the prevalence of ectoparasites to reference sites in natural areas. Lastly, I tested whether seasonal differences in activity patterns and road crossings were associated with vehicle collisions by comparing the movements of coyotes that were or were not killed in vehicle collisions and reports of coyotes killed on roads. Urban coyotes consumed more anthropogenic food and had more diverse diets than rural coyotes. Urban coyotes reported as nuisance animals assimilated less protein and were more likely to have sarcoptic mange (Sarcoptes scabiei). Among GPS-collared coyotes, those with mange used more developed areas, were more active during the day, and consumed more anthropogenic food. These coyotes were also more likely to select backyards with accessible garbage and compost piles and bed under houses. Compost piles were visited more frequently and especially by visibly diseased coyotes than urban natural areas. Most compost piles contained at least one species of fungal toxin capable of compromising consumer health. Coyotes killed in vehicle collisions crossed roads most often at dusk, which overlapped with evening rush hour in winter, whereas surviving coyotes crossed roads mainly around midnight regardless of season. My results suggest that diseased coyotes are more likely to overlap with people in space, time, and resources and piles of food waste may increase disease transmission. Also, avoidance of traffic in time may help reduce risk of vehicle collisions for coyotes. Management practices that prevent disease prevalence and transmission and promote nocturnal behaviour in urban carnivores may be more successful in preventing encounters between people and coyotes and ultimately foster greater coexistence of humans and urban carnivores.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    2015-11
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/R3CC0TZ9W
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
    English
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
    Doctoral
  • Department
    • Department of Biological Sciences
  • Specialization
    • Ecology
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • St. Clair, Colleen Cassady (Biological Sciences)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Boutin, Stan (Biological Sciences)
    • Festa-Bianchet, Marco (Département de biologie, Université de Sherbrooke)
    • Shostak, Al (Biological Sciences)
    • Nielsen, Scott (Renewable Resources)