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Urban Compost Attracts Coyotes, Contains Toxins, and may Promote Disease in Urban-Adapted Wildlife

Abstract

Anthropogenic food is often concentrated in cities where it can attract wildlife, promote conflict with people, and potentially spread disease. Although these associations are well-documented for conventional garbage, they are unexplored for many seemingly innocuous and even environmentally friendly attractants such as piles of compost. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that municipal piles of compost are underappreciated and potentially important contributors to a recent rise in encounters with urban-adapted wildlife by attracting wildlife and promoting the spread of wildlife disease. We used remote cameras to compare visitation rates to compost piles and urban natural areas by coyotes (Canis latrans). For each site type, we assessed photographs for evidence of ectoparasites, screened scats for endoparasites, and sampled compost for harmful mycotoxins. At compost piles, visitation rates were eight times more frequent, coyotes with visible parasitic infections were 4.5 times more common, scats were 10 times more likely to contain tapeworm eggs, and mycotoxins were detected in 86% of piles and often at concentrations higher than legal limits for animal feed. Greater securement of compost waste in cities may reduce encounters with animals, susceptibility to and spread of disease, and rates of human–wildlife conflict for coyotes and other urban-adapted species.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Mary Zhou for her conceptual contributions to mycotoxin screening and to several field assistants and volunteers for help with data collection. We appreciate funding from the Alberta Conservation Association, Alberta Innovates, the Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks, and Wildlife Foundation, the Canadian Wildlife Foundation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Royal Alberta Museum, and the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships Program. Camera monitoring was conducted with a City of Edmonton Partners in Parks Agreement.

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Correspondence to Maureen H. Murray.

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Murray, M.H., Hill, J., Whyte, P. et al. Urban Compost Attracts Coyotes, Contains Toxins, and may Promote Disease in Urban-Adapted Wildlife. EcoHealth 13, 285–292 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-016-1105-0

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Keywords

  • Wildlife disease
  • Human–wildlife conflict
  • Urban ecology
  • Supplemental food
  • Wildlife ecology
  • Mycotoxins