Posted on October 20th, 2009 2 comments Add a comment >>
Scientists have recognized for a while that Adirondack coyotes are bigger than western coyotes, but there has been debate over whether the cause is genetic or environmental.
Although scientists have suspected a wolf connection, Kays said the study proved it. “One of the big results was to show this in a systematic way,” he said.
Kays and two colleagues, Abigail Curtis and Jeremy Kirchman, tested the DNA from 686 coyotes and measured the skulls of 196 specimens. They found not only that Adirondack coyotes are part wolf, but also that their skulls are wider and larger–that is, more wolflike–than the skulls of typical coyotes. The Adirondack coyote’s larger skull and body give it an advantage in hunting deer.
“It’s got enough coyote in it to live around humans, but enough wolf to take down ungulates,” Kays said.
Coyotes evolved as hunters of rodents and other small prey in the Great Plains, but they migrated east in the last century, partially filling the niche once occupied by wolves (which were driven out in the 1800s). Some traveled south of the Great Lakes, reaching New York State via Ohio. But others went north of the lakes into Canada, where they bred with wolves, and then moved south to the Adirondacks and New England, according to the study, published in Biology Letters.
The two populations later met in western New York and Pennsylvania. Unlike the Adirondack coyotes, those that arrived in New York via Ohio remained the same size as their western counterparts. Kays said that since both populations dwell in similar habitats–woods filled with deer–genetics, not the environment, must account for their physiological differences.
Kays also noted that Adirondack coyotes exhibit far less genetic diversity than coyotes that migrated through Ohio. This suggests that the population is descended from a few females that crossed the St. Lawrence River from Canada.
Despite its lupine genes, the hybrid remains more coyote than wolf, according to Kays. In a sense, though, the wolf has returned to the Adirondacks, only in a different form.
“It’s interesting to show that evolution is still happening,” Kays said. “It’s not something you observe just in fossils.”
NOTE: This article appears in the November/December issue of the Adirondack Explorer.
Posted on August 29th, 2009 3 comments Add a comment >>
I had been wanting to paddle the Deer River Flow for some time, so when my friend, Phil Blanchard, came with his family to the Adirondacks for vacation, I suggested we take a trip there. Unfortunately, Phil got ill on the morning of our scheduled outing, so his son, Ben, and I did the trip alone.
Ben, who is twelve, was an enthusiastic companion. As we headed down the flow, we had to fight a moderate wind. I feared this might be difficult for Ben.
“Too bad about the wind,” I remarked.
“That’s OK. It makes it more fun,” Ben replied.
“The more you work, the more fun it is,” he said.
“I’ve never heard that theory,” I confessed.
“Because once the trip is done, you feel more satisfaction because you know worked more and you earned it more,” he said.
And you know what? The kid is right.
We paddled nine miles in all. We put in along Cold Brook Road on the south end of the flow, canoed to the large dam at the north end, then took the flow’s riverine east fork to Horseshoe Lake. You can read all about our adventure in a future issue of the Explorer.
Posted on May 29th, 2009 1 comment - Add a comment >>
Jon Waylong dreamed of becoming a wildlife biologist. While still in high school, he began tracking coyotes around his hometown of Barnstable on Cape Cod. He went on to earn bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, all related to coyote research. Now 34, he has written a book, Suburban Howls, and a number of professional articles on the coyote. Way has come to believe that the eastern coyote (the canid of the Adirondacks and elsewhere) is a distinct species, separate from the western coyote and from wolves. We contacted him by e-mail and asked him the following questions.
Incidentally, Jon will be speaking this Saturday, May 30, at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center near Whiteface Mountain. For more information, contact Wendy Hall at email@example.com.
What fascinates you about coyotes?
I love predators, and I am especially fascinated by eastern coyotes because (1) they are so successful in a variety of ecosystems; (2) they live in my hometown on Cape Cod; (3) relatively little is known about them; (4) they are a hybrid with red/eastern wolves.
Why do you think the eastern coyote is a separate species?
Because when analyzed genetically they form a distinct group from their parent species: western coyotes and red/eastern wolves (not gray wolves).
If it is a separate species, what is the biological significance of this?
Nothing much. The eastern coyote does what you would expect of a thirty-to-forty-pound wild dog. It is bigger than western coyotes but smaller than all wolves, including red/eastern wolves.
What does it mean for the regulation of the coyote?
Whenever I hear the word regulation or management, all I can think of, unfortunately, is killing them. State fish-and-game agencies, to my amazement, are still run just about exclusively for hunters and maximal utilization/exploitation.
Is the eastern coyote part wolf? If so, which wolf?
As mentioned above, it is a hybrid with the red or eastern wolf-formerly Canis rufus (red wolf), now called Canis lycaon. This is the wolf found in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. Historically, it probably lived from the southeastern U.S. to southeastern Canada.
How did our coyote come to hybridize with the eastern wolf?
They hybridized with the wolf in northern New England and New York and in southern Canada, most likely as wolves were getting exterminated at the end of the nineteenth century and as coyotes started colonizing the east. Habitat change due to agriculture and cutting down forests and the lack of competition (few wolves) made the east more attractive to coyotes. Eastern wolves are actually more closely related to coyotes than they are to gray wolves. It is logical that the eastern wolves would have mated with the coyotes if the wolves’ numbers were low. At some point, the hybrids started breeding with other hybrids to form the distinct group we know of as eastern coyotes. They then subsequently colonized all of the Northeast.
Can coyotes and wolves co-exist in the Northeast?
It depends. I think red/eastern wolves would hybridize with eastern coyotes if state fish-and-game agencies allow them to return. I think that if gray wolves were restored in numbers (i.e., reintroduced), they would exclude eastern coyotes from the wolf’s core areas.
Do you think wolves are already living in the Adirondacks and/or New England?
No. Any “wolves” are likely hybrids just as all eastern coyotes are and could be called coywolves. Any eastern wolves that make it to the Adirondacks or New England are probably killed or mate with coyotes (adding a little more wolf to the already existing hybrid gene pool). By the way, the geneticists say the eastern coyote is relatively pure-i.e., they match with each other genetically, but not with western coyotes or red/eastern wolves.
What is your book Suburban Howls about?
It’s a 300-page account of the experiences and findings of a biologist (me) who has studied this predator in urbanized environments.