Stable pack abundance and distribution in a harvested wolf population

Sarah B. Bassing, David E. Ausband, Michael S. Mitchell, Paul Lukacs, Allison Keever, Greg Hale, Lisette Waits

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    Harvesting gray wolves (Canis lupus) could affect the abundance and distribution of packs, but the frequency of change in pack occurrence (i.e., turnover) and relative effects of harvest compared to environmental factors is unclear. We used noninvasive genetic sampling, hunter surveys, and occupancy models to evaluate the effect of harvest on occurrence and turnover of packs in a population of wolves managed with intensive harvest in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, 2012–2014. We tested 2 alternative hypotheses: the abundance and distribution of wolf packs were dynamic because of harvest or the abundance and distribution of wolf packs were generally stable regardless of harvest. We found the mean annual probability for wolf pack occupancy ranged 0.72–0.74 and the estimated distribution of wolf packs was consistent over time, 2012–2014. Our top model indicated wolf pack occupancy was positively associated with forest cover and the probability of detecting a wolf pack was positively associated with the intensity of harvest for wolves in that area. We observed frequent turnover of individuals within packs that were genetically sampled consecutive years but not of entire packs. Because turnover of packs occurred infrequently during our study, we could not reject our hypothesis that occurrence of packs was generally stable in a harvested population of wolves. Our results suggest environmental factors have a stronger effect than harvest on the abundance and distribution of wolf packs in southwestern Alberta, but harvest appears to strongly influence turnover of individuals within packs. We hypothesize local dispersal from within the study area and neighboring packs on the periphery of the study area helped promote pack stability.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)577-590
    Number of pages14
    JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
    Volume83
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Apr 2019

    Keywords

    • Canis lupus
    • gray wolves
    • harvest
    • noninvasive genetic surveys
    • occupancy model
    • pack turnover
    • social carnivore
    • wolf group

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