March 20, 2008

Coyotes Thrive in Eastern U.S.

Coyotes are one of nature's most adaptive species, able to
thrive in different settings and survive on many diets. In the past 15 years,
coyote populations have exploded in the northeastern United States as a result of humans
eliminating native wolves from the region.

Scientists now are studying coyotes, opportunistic omnivores,
to unravel mysteries such as why the average body size of a northeastern coyote
is larger than their brethren elsewhere. Researchers also want to understand
what effect these new top predators
are having on the local ecosystem, specifically deer, one
of their favorite meals.

Jacqueline Frair, a wildlife ecologist at the SUNY College
of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse,
N.Y., attaches GPS tracking
to coyotes so she and her research team can see where they go, what
they eat and how many of them are in the neighborhood.

"We really don't have a good estimate of the status of
the population, if it's growing or if it's stabilized," Frair told LiveScience. "If we can nail down
how many coyotes we have, we can study predator-prey dynamics."

Frair's research, funded by the New York State Department of
Environmental Conservation, aims to provide a better picture of how the arrival
of coyotes affects the food chain.

Coyotes sharply reduce the number of local red foxes,
which are their closest competition, and in so doing affect many other species,
she said. For example, since raccoons compete with foxes, raccoon populations
may grow, and since foxes threaten songbirds, their numbers may also swell.

"There can be quite a shakeup in the system,"
Frair said.

Coyotes can occasionally pose a risk to humans and are
attracted to people's homes when food is left out for pets or trash is easily

The predators are native to the western United States around Montana
and Wyoming, but now thrive throughout North America. Coyotes were first officially sighted in New York in 1925, and
scientists estimate there are now thousands in the state.