Mattioli, Luca and Capitani, Claudia and Gazzola, Andrea and Scandura, Massimo and Apollonio, Marco (2011) Prey selection and dietary response by wolves in a high-density multi-species ungulate community. European Journal of Wildlife Research, Vol. 57 (4), p. 909-922. eISSN 1439-0574. Article.
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Studies on predation by the wolf (Canis lupus) have often reported contradictory results about the role of prey density and vulnerability on wolf prey use. We investigated dietary response and prey selection by wolves in a high-density and multi-species ungulate community, analysing scats collected over a period of 11 years in the Casentinesi Forests, Italy. The second most abundant species, wild boar (Sus scrofa), was found to be the main wolf prey, and we did not observe any dietary response of wolves to variations in the density of either primary or secondary prey species. Selection patterns were uniform throughout the study period. Wolves strongly selected for wild boar piglets, while roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) fawns and adults, red deer (Cervus elaphus) adults and fallow deer (Dama dama) adults were avoided. Wolf preference for wild boar was inversely density dependent. Within each species, juveniles were preferred to adults. Medium-sized, young individuals of both wild boar and roe deer were optimal prey, although with different selection patterns related to the different anti-predator strategies adopted by each prey species. The results of this study suggest that in productive ecosystems with high density and high renewal rates of prey, selection patterns by wolves are determined by prey vulnerability, which is connected to prey age and body size. The different patterns of wild boar versus cervids use by wolf across Europe seems to be related to their relative abundances, while the strong selection of wild boar in Italian Apennines with respect to the more frequent avoidance in central-eastern Europe is better explained by higher piglet productivity and smaller body size of adults boar in Mediterranean temperate forests.
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