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Are inland wolf-ungulate systems influenced by marine subsidies of Pacific salmon?

January 1, 2010

Wolves (Canis lupus) in North America are considered obligate predators of ungulates with other food resources playing little role in wolf population dynamics or wolf–prey relations. However, spawning Pacific salmon (Oncorhyncus spp.) are common throughout wolf range in northwestern North America and may provide a marine subsidy affecting inland wolf–ungulate food webs far from the coast. We conducted stable‐isotope analyses for nitrogen and carbon to evaluate the contribution of salmon to diets of wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve, 1200 river‐km from tidewater in interior Alaska, USA. We analyzed bone collagen from 73 wolves equipped with radio collars during 1986–2002 and evaluated estimates of salmon in their diets relative to the availability of salmon and ungulates within their home ranges. We compared wolf densities and ungulate : wolf ratios among regions with differing salmon and ungulate availability to assess subsidizing effects of salmon on these wolf–ungulate systems. Wolves in the northwestern flats of the study area had access to spawning salmon but low ungulate availability and consumed more salmon (17% ± 7% [mean ± SD]) than in upland regions, where ungulates were sixfold more abundant and wolves did or did not have salmon spawning areas within their home ranges (8% ± 6% and 3% ± 3%, respectively). Wolves were only 17% less abundant on the northwestern flats compared to the remainder of the study area, even though ungulate densities were 78% lower. We estimated that biomass from fall runs of chum (O. keta) and coho (O. kisutch) salmon on the northwestern flats was comparable to the ungulate biomass there, and the contribution of salmon to wolf diets was similar to estimates reported for coastal wolves in southeast Alaska. Given the ubiquitous consumption of salmon by wolves on the northwestern flats and the abundance of salmon there, we conclude that wolf numbers in this region were enhanced by the allochthonous subsidy provided by salmon and discuss implications for wolf–ungulate relations.

Publication Year 2010
Title Are inland wolf-ungulate systems influenced by marine subsidies of Pacific salmon?
DOI 10.1890/08-1437.1
Authors Layne G. Adams, Sean D. Farley, Craig A. Stricker, Dominic J. Demma, Gretchen H. Roffler, Dennis C. Miller, Robert O. Rye
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Index ID 70035423
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center