Newswise — Researchers in New York City (NYC) have analyzed the DNA of urban wolves and discovered that coyotes eat a variety of native prey species and supplement them with human-sourced food.
“Urban areas have more people, and therefore greater availability of anthropogenic foods,” says Dr. Carol Henger, lead author of a research paper detailing the New York City wolf diet. Since urban wolf research began in the 1980s and 1990s, there has been a lot of interest in the foods they eat, specifically whether they rely on human foods. “Knowing what coyotes eat can help inform management practices by city officials.”
Wolves are opportunistic carnivores and will take advantage of any available food. Previous wolf research conducted in cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles found that coyotes eat primarily “natural” food such as rodents and rabbits, but city coyotes still tend to eat more food from human sources than rural coyotes.
To find out what coyotes eat in New York City, Henger and her team analyzed DNA from coyotes fecal samples (scat) collected in parks and other green spaces across the city. The researchers used stool samples collected from 2010-2017 by members of the Gotham Coyote Project (gothamcoyote.org), a group of scientists and educators interested in learning about coyote ecology throughout New York City and the region. They found that urban coyotes consumed a variety of mammal prey such as raccoons, rabbits, deer, and mice. They also ate birds, insects, and plants as well as human foods such as chicken, beef, and pork.
“The unique thing about our study is that by sequencing coyote faecal DNA, we were able to detect elements of the diet that might not have been detected through visual analysis of fecal samples, such as human specific nutrients. There are no cows, poultry or wild banana trees in New York City parks, so if we get the DNA of something like that, we know that coyotes ate from a human source.”
The researchers also compared the diet of the New York City wolf with that of coyotes living in non-urban areas north of New York City. The main differences in diet between urban and non-urban coyotes were that raccoons and deer made up a greater proportion of the non-urban coyotes’ diet than the urban coyotes’ diet. The two groups of coyotes ate similar proportions of human food (about 60% of their faeces contained at least one human food component), but urban coyotes ate a wide variety, including rice, goats, bananas, and guinea fowl.
“The raccoon was the most widespread mammal ever detected in the New York City coyote’s diet,” says Henger. “With no other natural predators to limit their numbers, coyotes provide an important ecological service. Raccoons can carry diseases such as rabies and carry dogs that can be transmitted to humans and pets. By racing over raccoons, coyotes help provide systems for the healthy environment.”
“Our results show that coyotes do not depend on human food to survive in New York City,” Henger said. Instead, coyotes eat natural foodstuffs available in city parks. This study highlights the importance of creating and maintaining green spaces where wildlife can thrive.”
The research paper, “DNA-coding reveals that New York City coyotes consume a variety of local prey species and human food,” was published in berg. Co-authors are Emily Hargos and Jason Munshi-South of Fordham University, Chris Nagy of the Mianos Gorge River Preserve, Konstantinos Krampis of Hunter College, Mark Wickell, Neil Duncan, Claudia Welch and Linda Gormizano of the American Museum of Nature. Date. We are pleased to publish our research paper in English PeerJ”, Henger said. “The publishing process was quick and easy, and the reviewers increased the quality of the paper.”
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