Study on Denali wolves explained at lecture

Photo courtesy of National Park Service

Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The habits of wolves, coyotes, wolverines and fox and how they survive in the wild was the subject of a lecture at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Kaija Klauder was the featured speaker at the Wildlife Wednesday Speaker Series.  Her lecture was titled "Between a risk and a hard place: scavenging patterns and habitat selection of carnivores in the subarctic.  Klauder works at Denali National Park.& Preserve.  She works as a wolf tracker and researcher at the park.

She has also done wolf research in Arizona and at Yellowstone National Park.

Carnivores like wolves have been part of human cultures for as long as there have been human cultures.  They go deep in mythology, religion, even fairy tales, like Little Red Riding Hood.

They are used as symbols to talk about concepts and ideas. People have strong and divergent opinions and emotions about wolves.

"The opinions vary from seeing wolves as the epitome of danger, violence and evil.  Others see them as the peak of nobleness, selflessness and wilderness."

Wolves are valuable fur bearers, can attract tourists, and can have positive and negative economic and ecological impacts.

Klauder asked the question how do carnivores interact.  "They can help each other out, scaring away other carnivores, its not very simple to sit down and explain the relationship between wolves and coyotes."

Carnivores are always at risk.  To reduce risk they can add toxicity, armor or camouflage over time.  Behavior can change quicker.  They include being more vigilant, changing location, and changing the time of day where they are active.

Her talk focused on the gray wolf, the wolverine, coyotes and the red fox.  "All of them have been scavenged.  All of them have been listed as being killed by one of the other three." 

Scavenging has been mostly ignored by researchers because its disgusting, Klauder said, but it occurs all over the world.  "Only recently have they looked at how scavenging structures different animal communities."

Klauder said risk and reward often interact for carnivores.  As the reward grows, often the risk grows.

"In Alaska the colder it gets the more you have to eat."  They also use a lot more energy in the winter as they travel through heavy snow packs.

Risks these animals weigh for eating carcasses include age, temperature, vegetation and visual obstructions, and the amount of risk, like the intensity of wolf use in the area.

Klauder installed motion sensitive cameras at 31 carcass sites for a period of 12 months.  Wolverines averaged seven visits to each site.  Groups of wolves averaged three visits to each site.   Groups of wolves averaged over 32 minutes per visit.  Coyotes spent an average of two visits at each site and spent the lease time at each site.  The fox spent the most time being vigilant of its surroundings of these four species.

The research found that the scavenging decreased at warmer temperatures, and natural death carcass sites were the most heavily used.  Wolves and wolverines preferred open sites, foxes and coyotes used more vegetated sites.

The more the sites were visited by wolves the less they were visited by foxes and coyotes.

Any study will leave you with more questions like why are things different in Alaska, Klauder added.

She also studied coyotes in Denali.  They were first documented at the park in 1917.  They have greatly expanded their territory in North America.  They darted them from helicopters, placed GPS collars on coyotes, and tracked them for up to two years.

In eastern Alaska the home range of a coyote is 193 kilometers.  Her study found the average territory was 291 kilometers.

"These coyotes had a larger home range in order to get enough to eat."

The annual survival rate was 50-percent in the pool of nine coyotes.  Legal hunting took 14 percent and 21 percent were killed by larger carnivores like wolves and bears. 

Klauder said there was a lot of competition for carcasses and prey in Alaska.  The subarctic is a tough place for coyotes.  Coyotes respond to wolves in a predictable manner.  and the response to wolves depends on season and vegetation type.

Pat O'Brien said the Southeast Alaska Wildlife Alliance likes to celebrate wildlife. They also take donations at the monthly speeches hosted by UAS.

The group has kept a close eye on a case where illegal traps killed a bear cub and an adult bear last year.

On April 23, Mark Mitchell is scheduled to go on trial for illegal trapping charges. 

The alliance is also looking for new board members.

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