UVic Torch -- Autumn 2008
Autumn 2008,
Volume 29, Number 2

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WHEN THE MENU INCLUDES DEER AND SPAWNING SALMON, coastal BC wolves prefer the seafood option. That goes against a common scientific assumption that wolves only select salmon when deer are scarce.

Analyzing droppings and tufts of hair, and by observing the behaviour of eight wolf groups during a four-year study, biologist Chris Darimont, PhD ’07, found a “pronounced dietary shift from deer consumption” to salmon during spawning season—even when deer or elk are readily available.

Darimont’s study, co-authored by Biology Prof. Tom Reimchen and zoologist Paul Paquet, was published in the open access journal BMC Ecology. Primary funding for the study was provided by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

The wolf’s preference for spawning salmon, which return to inland rivers and streams in late summer and fall, is one of convenience—they’re easier and safer to catch. Wolves sometimes sustain fatal kicks in pursuit of ungulates.

While the focus is on wolves, the researchers say the bigger story is the wide impact of salmon, including: “the potential transmission of marine-based disease into terrestrial systems, the effects on wolf-deer population dynamics, and the distribution of salmon nutrients by wolves into coastal ecosystems.”

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