Wolf prey selection in an elk-bison system: choice or circumstance?

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Wolf prey selection in an elk-bison system: choice or circumstance?


What a predator eats when given choices, and the subsequent effects of this behavior on ecosystem stability, has long been a topic of interest for ecologists. Prey selection is influenced by the absolute and relative abundances of prey types, the life history characteristics of predators and prey, and the attributes of the environment in which these interactions occur. Strong preference by a predator for a particular prey type can lead to ecosystem instability, while prey switching can lessen predation effects on the less abundant prey and enhance system stability. Evaluating prey selection in large mammal systems is difficult due to the broad spatial and temporal scales at which these predatory interactions occur, and investigations, particularly with wolf-ungulate systems, typically involve only the primary prey. Multiple prey species characterize most large mammal predator-prey systems, therefore research into predator-multiple prey dynamics has the potential to yield important ecological insights. We studied winter prey selection during 1996–1997 through 2006–2007 in a newly established wolf-elk-bison system where prey differed substantially in their vulnerability to wolf (Canis lupus) predation and wolves preyed primarily on elk (Cervus elaphus) but also used bison (Bison bison) to varying degrees within and among winters and packs. We analyzed the relative influences of prey abundance, predator abundance, and environmental variables on the selection of prey species and age classes and evaluated whether wolves exhibited prey switching from elk to bison.

Bibliographic Citation

Becker, M. S., R. A. Garrott, P. J. White, C. N. Gower, E. J. Bergman and R. Jaffe. 2008. Wolf prey selection in an elk-bison system: choice or circumstance? Pages 305-337 in Garrott, R.A., P.J. White and F.G.R. Watson, editors. The ecology of large mammals in central Yellowstone: sixteen years of integrated field studies. Academic Press, New York, New York, USA. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1936-7961(08)00216-9


Becker, Matthew S.
Garrott, Robert A.
White, P.J.
Gower, Claire N.
Bergman, Eric J.
Jaffe, Rosemary


Prey selection


33 pages

Date Created








Is Part Of

Terrestrial Ecology



Becker, Matthew S. et al., “Wolf prey selection in an elk-bison system: choice or circumstance?,” CPW Digital Collections, accessed April 16, 2024, https://cpw.cvlcollections.org/items/show/269.