Coyotes and red foxes can successfully share space if enough food exists to limit competition, says a new study.
Maybe you were the older brother who liked to dish out noogies. Maybe you were the younger sibling who had to endure them, at least until you caught up, size-wise.
In the end, you learned to live together.
Urban coyotes and red foxes are apparently learning to do the same.
Easy living appears to be the reason why.
Traditionally, coyotes and foxes have not co-existed well. Matt Lovallo, chief of the game mammals section for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said surges in coyote populations over the last 30 years have generally coincided with a decline in fox numbers.
The larger predator traditionally outcompetes his smaller cousin at best, and preys on him at worst, Lovallo said.
There appears to be a new deal in place, though.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison trapped and tagged coyotes and red foxes in the Midwest. The study area was 27 square miles, and included the university campus, surrounding neighborhoods, commercial districts and some natural areas.
They followed 11 coyotes and 12 red foxes over two years, monitoring things like home ranges and habitat usage.
Their work recently appeared in the journal PLOS One (you can see the full text here).
What they found is that – where food is abundant around people – the two species coexist.
They didn’t necessarily roam the same portions of the suburbs at the same times. Coyotes preferred areas with more undeveloped space, including woods, grassland and emergent wetlands. Red foxes, on the other hand, stuck to moderately and highly developed areas.
In some ways, the habitat preferred by the coyotes was better, in that it offered less risk from people. Collisions with vehicles are the number one mortality for coyotes in the study, for example.
Less developed areas preferred by coyotes had less of that traffic.
That’s evidence that as the apex predator in that environment, coyotes were still determining where foxes could go, researchers concluded.
“Foxes largely avoided areas that were preferred by coyotes, even though foxes frequently used similar areas within their home ranges, suggesting that on the landscape level, a degree of interspecific spatial partitioning may be occurring,” they wrote in their paper.
But their territories did sometimes overlap.
And it looks as though the two species are learning to share space.
Food is the reason. There’s just enough of it to go around.
“More abundant resources appear to allow both species to display smaller home ranges, which may allow for these two traditionally competitive species to coexist within urban environments with a similar dynamic to rural coyotes and red foxes, but on a smaller scale with potentially less competitive interactions,” researchers said.