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Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Wildlife and Fisheries Science

First Advisor

Jonathan A. Jenks


Coyotes (Canis latrans) are common on the prairies that characterize Wind Cave National Park. Few studies have been conducted on the ecology of coyotes in South Dakota. With the potential effects coyotes may have on reintroduced endangered blackfooted ferrets (Mustela nigripes) to Wind Cave National Park, a study on coyote ecology was warranted. Our objectives were (1) to determine disease titers to canine distemper virus (CDV), Fransicella tularensis, and Yersinia pestis, (2) to determine home range and core area size, (3) to index population abundance and determine coyote density, (4) to determine resource selection, (5) to determine food habits, and (6) to document den sites of coyotes in Wind Cave National Park. With the onset of a sarcoptic mange epizootic, objectives were modified to document potential effects on the coyote population. We captured a total of 26 coyotes and radiocollared 22 adults (12 F, 10 M). We collected blood samples from 16 captured coyotes (15 adults, 1 juvenile), 9 females and 7 males. We sampled 12 coyotes in 2003 and 4 in 2004. In 2003, 2 of 17 (12%) coyotes that were captured had mange. In 2004, 5 of 9 (56%) coyotes that were captured had evidence of mange. Sera from 16 coyotes was tested for antibodies to CDV, F. tularensis, and Y. pestis. Thirteen (81%) coyotes had serum antibody titers positive (≥1:16) for CDV. All 16 coyotes were negative for antibodies to Y. pestis. One coyote (6%) was positive for F. tularensis. We estimated annual home ranges and core areas (50% and 95% adaptive kernel) for 17 coyotes from 2003 and 2004. Mean annual home range size of females was 14.76 ± 6.67 (SE) km2 and 10.76 ± 1.44 km2 in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Mean annual home range size of males was 9.06 ± 1.64 km2 and 18.62 ± 5.62 km2 in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Mean annual core area size for females was 2.44 ± 1.11 km2 and 1.24 ± 0.28 km2 in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Mean annual core area size for males was 1.36 ± 0.20 km2 and 2.70 ± 1.04 km2 in 2003 and 2004, respectively. In 2003, home range size for male coyotes with mange and those considered healthy was 8.26 ± 1.63 (SE) km2 and 9.67 ± 2.80 km2, respectively. In 2004, home range size for those male coyotes with and without mange was 22.69 ± 9.06 km2 and 12.51 ± 2.73 km2, respectively. Male home range size did not differ between years (P = 0.14) or by status (with or without mange) (P = 0.43). Annual survival of coyotes was 0.60 (n = 15, SE = 0.01) for 1 May 2003 to 30 April 2004 and 0.64 (n = 14, SE = 0.01) for 1 May 2004 to 30 April 2005. Survival of coyotes differed (P = 0.01) among seasons in 2003-2004 and was lower in winter than summer. Annual survival (360 days) was 0.53 ± 0.25 for healthy coyotes and 0.38 ± 0.15 for coyotes with mange. Although survival for coyotes with mange was 39% lower than for those without mange, these estimates did not differ (P = 0.83) from one another. Fecal line transects, an index of relative abundance, indicated that the coyote population decreased by 48% from 2003 to 2004. Mean relative density indices of coyotes differed (P = 0.01) between seasons; mean summer relative density decreased 58% from 2003 to 2004. Although statistically similar, mean winter relative density indices of coyotes declined 32% from 2003 to 2004. Using percent overlap combined with number of established residents and their pups, we determined there were between 0.22-0.44 coyotes/km2 (25-50 individuals) in WCNP in 2003; the population declined by 48% after the mange epizootic to 0.14-0.27 coyotes/km2 (16-31 individuals). Resource selection by coyotes was determined using Design II and Design III analyses. Design II analysis indicated that coyotes did not select habitats equally in 2003 (P < 0.01) or in 2004 (P < 0.01). Coyotes selected for prairie dog habitat but avoided forest in 2003 and 2004. Coyotes selected for grassland habitat in 2004. Design III analysis indicated that 3 coyotes in 2003 and 1 in 2004 chose habitats differently within their home ranges. In 2003, there was significant selection for prairie dog habitat. However, in 2004, there was significant selection for land use and avoidance of prairie dog habitat. Coyotes with mange and healthy coyotes used habitats differently (P < 0.001). We examined 57 fecal samples in 2003 and 46 fecal samples in 2004, totaling 103 samples. In 2003 and 2004, voles (Microtus sp.) occurred most frequently (63.2 and 58.7 percent of scat [POS], respectively) in the small-sized mammal category; prairie dogs (35.1 POS and 41.3 POS, respectively) in medium-sized mammal category; and in 2003, pronghorn (Antilocapra americana, 15.8 POS) in the large-sized mammal category, but in 2004, deer (Odocoileus hemionus and O. virginianus, 19.6 POS) occurred most frequently. Based on percent-fresh-weight-of-prey (PFWP) values in 2003 and 2004, small-sized mammals comprised the greatest part (47.9 and 52.2 PFWP, respectively) of coyote diets. We documented 19 den sites throughout 2003 (n = 10) and 2004 (n = 9), but used only 17 in our analyses. Eleven den sites were located in grassland habitat, 2 in forest, and 4 in prairie dog towns. Distance (m) to prairie dog towns between den sites (mean = 335.57, SE = 79.87) and random sites (mean = 504.25, SE = 111.35) did not differ (P = 0.23). Managers of Wind Cave National Park need to consider the role of coyotes as the top predator within the Park, and the influence coyotes may have on the success of black-footed ferret reintroduction. One potential obstacle is that coyotes are selecting for prairie dog towns. However, the decrease in coyote abundance creates the opportune time to reintroduce black-footed ferrets.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Coyote--Ecology--South Dakota--Wind Cave National Park
Coyote--Diseases--South Dakota--Wind Cave National Park


Includes bibliographical references.



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


Copyright © 2007 Jamie M. Chronert. All rights reserved.