Context . Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) populations have declined across most of North America. Wolf (Canis lupus) predation on adults is partially responsible for declines; however, caribou declines also can be attributed to low calf survival. Wolves and invading coyotes (C. latrans) may contribute to mortality of calves.
Aim . We assessed wolf and coyote food habits and population and individual level selection for caribou-preferred habitats (bogs and fens) during the caribou calving season (15 April to 30 June) in north-eastern Alberta, Canada, to determine what role these predators might play as a mortality factor for caribou calves.
Methods . We deployed global positioning system and very high-frequency (VHF) radio-collars on 32 wolves and nine coyotes in January 2006 – January 2008, and VHF collars on 42 adult female caribou individuals in 2003–08. We assessed wolf and coyote habitat selection using used-available resource-selection functions, and spatial overlap of wolves and coyotes with caribou using logistic regression to estimate coefficients for latent selection-difference functions. We collected and analysed scats to assess wolf and coyote food habits.
Key results . Wolves generally avoided caribou-preferred habitats, particularly bogs. Most coyotes selected caribou-preferred habitats (bogs and/or fens); however, relative to caribou, they were found closer to upland forests. Hair from adult and calf caribou was uncommon in wolf and coyote diet and caribou is likely to be an uncommon alternative prey for these predators.
Conclusions . We found that >25% of wolf packs and most coyotes selected caribou-preferred habitats during the calving season. Although caribou was not an important prey, limited secondary predation, by these predators and black bears (Ursus americanus), on adult and calf caribou is likely to be contributing to caribou population declines.
Implications . We caution that predation on caribou is likely to escalate as coyotes expand into this region and increasing human disturbance continues to create habitat for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), which is an important prey for both wolves and coyotes.