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Environmental and social factors influencing wolf (Canis lupus) howling behavior

June 25, 2020

Animals communicate in a variety of ways and calls are used for a number of important behaviors. Temperature, wind, time of day, and human activities can affect animals’ use of calls, particularly over long distances. Effects of group size on the use of calls can be particularly influential in territorial social carnivores. Where gray wolves (Canis lupus) are hunted by humans, for example, howling may make it easier for hunters to locate individuals and ultimately increase mortality. We hypothesized that a suite of factors would affect wolves’ responses to simulated howling. Specifically, we predicted that howling behavior would increase with (a) group size, (b) pup age, and (c) during crepuscular time periods and howling behavior would decrease (a) where wolves were harvested and (b) when it was hot or windy. Contrary to our prediction, larger groups did not respond as quickly to simulated wolf howls as smaller groups did and minimum and maximum daily temperatures were not good predictors of wolf howling response rates. Individuals in small litters of pups may have responded more quickly to howls than those in large litters because they are eager to seek safety from and have socialization with adults returning from foraging bouts. Although harvest did not appear to affect vocal communication by wolves, group size, pup age, time of day, wind, and number of howls emitted greatly affected wolves’ behavior and responses during howling surveys. Howling responses did not change because of harvest; response rates from wolves were nearly identical with (2.2%) and without (2.3%) harvest. The year-round benefits of long-distance vocal communication may outweigh the costs of increased mortality arising from howling during harvest season.

Publication Year 2020
Title Environmental and social factors influencing wolf (Canis lupus) howling behavior
DOI 10.1111/eth.13041
Authors David Edward Ausband, Sarah B. Bassing, Michael S. Mitchell
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ethology
Index ID 70228372
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle