For animals that forage widely, protecting young from predation can span relatively long time periods due to the inability of young to travel with and be protected by their parents. Moving relatively immobile young to improve access to important resources, limit detection of concentrated scent by predators, and decrease infestations by ectoparasites can be advantageous. Moving young, however, can also expose them to increased mortality risks (e.g., accidents, getting lost, predation). For group-living animals that live in variable environments and care for young over extended time periods, the influence of biotic factors (e.g., group size, predation risk) and abiotic factors (e.g., temperature and precipitation) on the decision to move young is unknown. We used data from 25 satellite-collared wolves (Canis lupus) in Idaho, Montana, and Yellowstone National Park to evaluate how these factors could influence the decision to move pups during the pup-rearing season. We hypothesized that litter size, the number of adults in a group, and perceived predation risk would positively affect the number of times gray wolves moved pups. We further hypothesized that wolves would move their pups more often when it was hot and dry to ensure sufficient access to water. Contrary to our hypothesis, monthly temperature above the 30-year average was negatively related to the number of times wolves moved their pups. Monthly precipitation above the 30-year average, however, was positively related to the amount of time wolves spent at pup-rearing sites after leaving the natal den. We found little relationship between risk of predation (by grizzly bears, humans, or conspecifics) or group and litter sizes and number of times wolves moved their pups. Our findings suggest that abiotic factors most strongly influence the decision of wolves to move pups, although responses to unpredictable biotic events (e.g., a predator encountering pups) cannot be ruled out.
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Vol. 97 • No. 5