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Mammalian Biology

, Volume 83, Issue 1, pp 44–50 | Cite as

Responses of wolf feeding habits after adverse climatic events in central-western Belarus

  • Vadim Sidorovich
  • Annik SchnitzlerEmail author
  • Christophe Schnitzler
  • Irina Rotenko
  • Yulia Holikava
Original investigation

Abstract

Many studies have investigated the ecology of wolf populations of Eurasia, showing that although wolves are mostly opportunistic in seeking meso-large enough mammalian prey, they can also be selective, depending on local availability of prey and their population biomass. Yet prey preferences of the wolf have been poorly evaluated in situations of complex predator/prey systems because such ecological situations are extremely rare in Europe. In particular, the role of beaver is poorly known due to the extreme decline in its range and population over the last few centuries.

We conducted a 15-year study (1999-2014) of wolf Canis lupus diet in the Naliboki forest of central-western Belarus to determine the dietary responses of the wolf population in a context of a rich prey supply (beaver 650inds/100km2, elk 47inds/100km2, red deer 98inds/100km, roe deer 398inds/100km2, wild boar 234inds/100km2). The bison, although present, is not preyed on. We com-pared the seasonal and annual diet variations of both wolf adults and pups, by scat analysis and hair identification. In winter 2012–2013, the winter was quite harsh with a long period of snow, which severely affected the roe deer and wild boar populations. Five severe summer droughts also occurred (1999, 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2013), greatly decreasing the water level in rivers and canals. We took advantage of these stressful events to evaluate the diet responses of the wolves.

In “normal” years, we identified 11 food categories, essentially beaver and medium-sized ungulates (66%), and large ungulates to a lesser extent (9% in summer, 20% in winter). The adults were found to selectively supply pups with beaver, probably because of its easy transportability. Beaver consumption also increased during summer droughts when water levels were very low. After the harsh winter of 2012–2013, which was followed by a sharp decline in medium-sized prey, we observed a shift in the winter diet breadth of the wolves towards greater consumption of both large wild ungulates and small carnivores. We concluded that:
  1. 1.

    Beaver is a functional element in wolf ecology, as a primary food for adults and pups

     
  2. 2.

    A large range of available prey species is important to maintaining a viable wolf population in cases of extreme climatic events.

     

Keywords

Beaver Belarus Cold winter Drought Forest Rich predator/prey system Wolf 

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Copyright information

© Deutsche Gesellschaft für Säugetierkunde, e. V. DGS 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vadim Sidorovich
    • 1
  • Annik Schnitzler
    • 2
    Email author
  • Christophe Schnitzler
    • 3
  • Irina Rotenko
    • 1
  • Yulia Holikava
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of ZoologyNational Academy of Sciences of BelarusMinskBelarus
  2. 2.LIEC-UMR 7360 CNRS.University of LorraineMetzFrance
  3. 3.LISEC EA2310Faculté des Sciences du SportStrasbourgFrance

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