Home Range and Habitat Use of Coyotes in an Area of Native Prairie, Farmland and CRP Fields

By Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B. et al. | The American Midland Naturalist, April 2005 | Go to article overview
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Home Range and Habitat Use of Coyotes in an Area of Native Prairie, Farmland and CRP Fields


Kamler, Jan F., Ballard, Warren B., Lemons, Patrick R., Gilliland, Rickey L., Mote, Kevin, The American Midland Naturalist


ABSTRACT.-

From 1999 to 2001 we monitored 12 coyotes (Canis latrans) in northwestern Texas to determine their home ranges and habitat use in a landscape interspersed with native prairie, farmland and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields. Annual home range size was 10.1 km^sup 2^ for residents and 84.5 km^sup 2^ for transients. We determined habitat use at two spatial scales: within home ranges and within study area. Habitat use patterns were similar at both scales, as residents selected for native prairie and transients selected for CRP fields. Habitat use between residents and transients differed in both seasons, with residents selecting more native prairie, less farmland and less CRP (summer only) than transients. Habitat at natal den sites also differed from expected for residents, us most dens (8 of 10) were located in CRP fields. The CRP fields contained the only tall permanent vegetation on our study sites and appeared to provide important foraging habitat for transient coyotes, and denning habitat for resident coyotes.

INTRODUCTION

Despite substantial losses of native habitat during the past 200 y, coyotes (Canis latrans) increased their numbers and have thrived in human-altered habitats, including urban and agricultural environments (Bekoff, 1982; Voigt and Berg, 1987). Coyotes, which primarily occupied the prairie biome prior to European settlement, have since expanded their range into nearly all available habitats in North America (Nowak, 1978; Voigt and Berg, 1987; Moore and Parker, 1992). Despite extensive research on coyotes during the past 30 y, there is little published information concerning habitat selection of prairie compared to nonnative habitats. Information concerning habitat use of coyotes in landscapes interspersed with native prairie and human-altered habitats may help elucidate why this species has been so successful in human-dominated environments. Coyotes have been classified in their social organization as residents and transients (Andelt, 1985; Gese et al., 1988; Kamler and Gipson, 2000). Because transients and residents can exhibit different habitat use patterns (Kamler and Gipson, 2000), effects of heterogeneous landscapes should be investigated for both types of coyotes.

With passage of the 1985 Farm Bill, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was created with the goal of retiring highly erodible land from agricultural production and converting it to permanent cover. Since 1985, CRP has removed approximately 14.7 billion ha nationwide from agricultural production (Weber et al., 2002). Most (87%) CRP acres are planted to grasses, with most (66%) being nonnative species (Osborn and Heimlich, 1994). By law, CRP fields are not grazed, unless restrictions are lifted in times of extreme drought. Thus, the vegetation structure and diversity of most CRP fields differ considerably from native grasslands, which are often grazed by cattle. Although originally designed to reduce soil erosion, CRP fields are now widely acknowledged to have positive benefits for many wildlife species (Delisle and Savidge, 1997). For example, previous research showed that permanent cover provided by CRP fields is important to many bird species (Johnson and Schwartz, 1993; Best et al., 1998; McCoy et al, 1999). The CRP also can be beneficial to larger species such as white-tailed (Odocoileus virginianus) and mule (O. hemionus) deer (Could andjenkins, 1993; Kamler et al., 2001). However, use of CRP by other large mammal species, especially carnivores, has received little attention. A better understanding of CRP use by coyotes is needed, as this information would help determine if this relatively recent, but widespread, habitat type is beneficial to this species.

The purpose of this paper was to compare home ranges and seasonal habitat selection of resident and transient coyotes in a heterogeneous landscape. We determined habitat selection at two spatial scales: within home ranges and within the study area.

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