Hello! My name is Valerie Rice, and I'm the Senior Animal Keeper at Red Wolf. I'm also attending Miami University's Global Field Program to earn my Masters degree.
As part of my program I conduct multiple inquiry projects on my topic of choice. This semester I've chosen to focus on the relative abundance of coyotes in habitats with or without human activity. Coyotes play an important role in ecosystems and I want to help educate the communities in which they live.
Coyotes (Canis latrans) are found in a variety of habitats across North America, including urban areas (Quinn, 1995). Urban areas are attractive to a variety of wild species mostly due to the availability of easy food (Murray et al., 2016). Newsome et al. found that coyotes that inhabited urban area ranges were more likely to have lower levels of natural food sources in their diet (2015). As urban areas increase and the amount of natural habitat decreases, coyotes are forced to live more closely with humans, leading to the potential for increased human-wildlife conflicts (Poessel et al., 2013).
Techniques to reduce potential conflict include increasing the amount of dense vegetation around urban areas, as coyotes prefer areas with abundant plant cover (Crimmins, Edwards, and Houben, 2012). Poessel, Gese and Yound (2017) suggest that forest cover may help reduce encounters between coyotes with humans. They suggest coyote encounters and conflicts are more likely to occur in developed areas without dense vegetation cover. Elliot, Vallence, and Molles (2016) suggest that human conflict occurs because coyotes become used to approaching urban areas to make use of human food sources which then leads to a higher chance of an encounter. Possible ways to reduce access to these food sources include securing garbage cans so that animals are not able to get into them. Education about how to reduce the proximity of coyotes to urban areas would also reduce conflicts and encounters in general.
To collect the data for my study I placed two camera traps on our private property. One was located in an area with no human activity, and the other was located in an area with moderate human activity. I conducted my study for 36 continuous days during the Fall of 2018. During this time coyotes were only observed via camera trap in the habitat with no human activity. I also observed other species; the number of observances for each species can be found in Table 1.
To determine wether coyotes preferred areas with or without human activity, I calculated Shannon's Diversity Index. Shannon’s Diversity Index accounts for both the abundance of species and distribution of individuals per species present in a habitat or community (Beals, Gross, Harrell, 2000). Shannon’s Diversity index was calculated to be 1.320 and 0.000 for the habitat with no human activity and the habitat with moderate human activity, respectively. These results indicate that the habitat with no human activity has a higher diversity than the habitat with moderate human activity, as 1.320 is greater than 0.000.
The relative abundance of coyotes per habitat type was calculated to be 6.4% and 0% for the habitat with no human activity and the habitat with moderate human activity, respectively. Coyotes were only observed via camera trap in the habitat with no human activity. While this doesn’t mean that they weren’t present in the habitat with moderate human activity, they had a higher relative abundance in the habitat with no human activity, as 6.4% is greater than 0%.
In summary, the results of this study indicate that coyotes might have a preference towards areas where they can easily avoid humans. Like I previously mentioned, coyotes typically are found in urban areas due to easy food sources, but prefer to hunt natural prey when given the option (Newsome, Garbe, Wilson and Gehrt, 2015).
The results of this study may be taken further to gain more knowledge about the avoidance of human activity by coyotes, such as examining the relationship between coyote relative abundance (as recorded on trail cams) and prey abundance, as well as testing techniques to reduce human-wildlife conflict.
Beals, M., Gross, L., & Harrell, S. (2000). Diversity indices: Shannon’s H and E. Retrieved from http://www.tiem.utk.edu/~gross/bioed/bealsmodules/shannonDI.html
Crimmins, S., Edwards, J., & Houben, J. (2012). Canis latrans (Coyote) Habitat Use and Feeding Habits in Central West Virginia. Northeastern Naturalist. 19:411-420.
Murray MH, Hill J, Whyte P, & St. Clair CC. (2016). Urban compost attracts coyotes, contains toxins, and may promote disease in urban-adapted wildlife. EcoHealth. 13:285-92.
Newsome SD, Garbe HM, Wilson EC, Gehrt SD. 2015. Individual variation in anthropogenic resource use in an urban carnivore. Oecologia 178:115-28.
Poessel, S.A., Breck, S.W., Teel, T.L., Shwiff, S. , Crooks, K.R. & Angeloni, L. (2013). Patterns of human–coyote conflicts in the Denver Metropolitan Area. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 77:297-305.
Poessel SA, Gese EM, & Young JK. (2017). Environmental factors influencing the occurrence of coyotes and conflicts in urban areas. Landsc Urban Plann. 157:259-69.
Quinn, T. (1995). Using public sighting information to investigate coyote use of urban habitat. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 59:238-245.