Wolf kill rates: predictably variable?

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Wolf kill rates: predictably variable?


The ability of predators to successfully capture and kill prey is affected by the abundance and diversity of the prey assemblage, and such variation is a fundamental driver of ecosystem dynamics because per capita consumption rate strongly influences the stability and strength of community interactions. Descriptions of predatory behavior in this context typically include the functional response, specifically the kill rate of a predator as a function of prey density. Thus, a major objective in studying predator–prey interactions is to evaluate the strength of the numerous factors related to the kill rate of a predator, and to subsequently determine the forms of its functional response in natural systems because different forms have different consequences for ecosystem dynamics. Recent controversies over the nature of predation focus on the respective roles of prey and predator abundance in affecting the functional response. However, resolution requires more direct measures of kill rates in natural systems. We estimated wolf (Canis lupus) kill rates in a tractable and newly established wolf–elk (Cervus elaphus)–bison (Bison bison) system in the Madison headwaters area of Yellowstone National Park during winters 1998–1999 to 2006–2007 to document the transition from over seven decades without wolves to a well-established top predator population. Wolf abundance, distribution, and prey selection varied during the study, concurrent with variations in the demography, distribution, and behavior of elk and bison. These dynamics enabled us to evaluate factors influencing variations in wolf kill rates and the forms of their functional response.

Bibliographic Citation

Becker, M. S., R. A. Garrott, P. J. White, R. Jaffe, J. J. Borkowski, C. N. Gower, and E. J. Bergman. 2008. Wolf kill rates: predictably variable? 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)00217-0


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


Predator–prey interactions
Prey selection


31 pages

Date Created








Is Part Of

Terrestrial Ecology



Becker, Matthew S. et al., “Wolf kill rates: predictably variable?,” CPW Digital Collections, accessed August 11, 2022, https://cpw.cvlcollections.org/items/show/270.