Context. Throughout the world, declines in large mammalian carnivores have led to the release of smaller meso-mammalian predators. Coyotes (Canis latrans) have increased in abundance, distribution and ecological influence following the extirpation of apex predators in North America. Coyotes have had substantial influence on many ecosystems in recently colonised portions of their range, but those influences can vary across land cover types. Thus, understanding the relationship between coyote abundance and land cover may enhance our ability to predict spatial variation in the ecological effects of coyotes.
Aims. Our objective was to examine the influence of landscape attributes on eastern coyote abundance to ultimately facilitate predictions of spatial variation in the effects of coyotes on prey populations, ecological communities and human interests.
Methods. We collected count data from repeated visits to 24 sites by eliciting howl responses from coyotes. We fit abundance models to howl-response data to examine the effects of landscape composition and configuration on coyote abundance in a mixed forest/agricultural ecosystem in south-western Georgia, USA.
Key results. Our investigation revealed that coyote abundance was positively associated with grasslands that were predominantly used for livestock production, and negatively associated with patch diversity.
Conclusions. Our results supported the prediction that coyotes would be positively associated with open habitats and that they are well adapted for areas structurally similar to the plains of central North America, where the species originated. In addition, these results suggest that aspects of fragmentation, such as patch diversity, can negatively affect coyote abundance. Our results highlight the importance of patch type and landscape juxtaposition on the abundance of coyotes in complex heterogeneous landscapes.
Implications. Our results further our understanding of the spatial variation in coyote abundances across a recently colonised portion of the species range. Combining howl-response surveys with abundance modelling is a promising approach for studying the associations between population dynamics of vocal canids and landscape structure over large spatial scales.