Competition, prey, and mortalities influence gray wolf group size

Sarah N. Sells, Michael S. Mitchell, Kevin M. Podruzny, David E. Ausband, Douglas J. Emlen, Justin A. Gude, Ty D. Smucker, Diane K. Boyd, Kenneth E. Loonam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Group living is found in only 10–15% of carnivorans and can shape demographic processes. Sociality is associated with benefits including increased ability to acquire resources, decreased risk of mortality, and increased reproductive success. We hypothesized that carnivore group size is influenced by conditions related to competition, prey, and mortality risk, which should affect benefits and costs of sociality and resulting demographic processes. We evaluated our hypotheses with gray wolves (Canis lupus) using a 14-year dataset from a large, heavily managed population in the northern Rocky Mountains, USA. Annual mean group size ranged 4.86–7.03 and averaged 5.92 overall. Most groups were relatively small, with 80% containing ≤8 members. Groups were larger in areas with higher densities of conspecific groups, and smaller where prey availability was low. Group sizes remained largely stable while the population was unharvested or under low-intensity harvest but declined under high-intensity harvest. Results support the hypothesis that as habitat becomes saturated, inclusive fitness may become increasingly important such that subordinates delay dispersal. In addition to direct implications for birth and deaths, conditions related to prey and mortality risk may also influence dispersal decisions. Our work also provided a model to predict group size of wolves in our system, directly fulfilling a management need.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere22193
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Canis lupus
  • benefits and costs
  • carnivorans
  • dispersal
  • gray wolves
  • group living
  • group size
  • sociality


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