Spatial overlap of gray wolves and ungulate prey changes seasonally corresponding to prey migration

Nathaniel H. Wehr, Seth A. Moore, Edmund J. Isaac, Kenneth F. Kellner, Joshua J. Millspaugh, Jerrold L. Belant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Prey are more vulnerable during migration due to decreased familiarity with their surroundings and spatially concentrated movements. Predators may respond to increased prey vulnerability by shifting their ranges to match prey. Moose (Alces alces) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are primary gray wolf (Canis lupus) prey and important subsistence species for Indigenous communities. We hypothesized wolves would increase use of ungulate migration corridors during migrations and predicted wolf distributions would overlap primary available prey. Methods: We examined seasonal gray wolf, moose, and white-tailed deer movements on and near the Grand Portage Indian Reservation, Minnesota, USA. We analyzed GPS collar data during 2012–2021 using Brownian bridge movement models (BBMM) in Migration Mapper and mechanistic range shift analysis (MRSA) to estimate individual- and population-level occurrence distributions and determine the status and timing of range shifts. We estimated proportional overlap of wolf distributions with moose and deer distributions and tested for differences among seasons, prey populations, and wolf sex and pack affiliations. Results: We identified a single migration corridor through which white-tailed deer synchronously departed in April and returned in October–November. Gray wolf distributions overlapped the deer migration corridor similarly year-round, but wolves altered within-range distributions seasonally corresponding to prey distributions. Seasonal wolf distributions had the greatest overlap with deer during fall migration (10 October–28 November) and greatest overlap with moose during summer (3 May–9 October). Conclusions: Gray wolves did not increase their use of the white-tailed deer migration corridor but altered distributions within their territories in response to seasonal prey distributions. Greater overlap of wolves and white-tailed deer in fall may be due to greater predation success facilitated by asynchronous deer migration movements. Greater summer overlap between wolves and moose may be linked to moose calf vulnerability, American beaver (Castor canadensis) co-occurrence, and reduced deer abundance associated with migration. Our results suggest increases in predation pressure on deer in fall and moose in summer, which can inform Indigenous conservation efforts. We observed seasonal plasticity of wolf distributions suggestive of prey switching; that wolves did not exhibit migratory coupling was likely due to spatial constraints resulting from territoriality.

Original languageEnglish
Article number33
Pages (from-to)33
JournalMovement Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 26 2024


  • Brownian bridge movement model
  • Canis lupus
  • Corridor
  • Migration Mapper
  • Migratory coupling
  • Moose
  • Predator–prey
  • Range shift
  • Space use
  • White-tailed deer


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