Mapping the expansion of coyotes (Canis latrans) across North and Central America

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Abstract

The geographic distribution of coyotes (Canis latrans) has dramatically expanded since 1900, spreading across much of North America in a period when most other mammal species have been declining. Although this considerable expansion has been well documented at the state/provincial scale, continent-wide descriptions of coyote spread have portrayed conflicting distributions for coyotes prior to the 1900s, with popularly referenced anecdotal accounts showing them restricted to the great plains, and more obscure, but data-rich accounts suggesting they ranged across the arid west. To provide a scientifically credible map of the coyote’s historical range (10,000–300 BP) and describe their range expansion from 1900 to 2016, we synthesized archaeological and fossil records, museum specimens, peer-reviewed reports, and records from wildlife management agencies. Museum specimens confirm that coyotes have been present in the arid west and California throughout the Holocene, well before European colonization. Their range in the late 1800s was undistinguishable from earlier periods, and matched the distribution of non-forest habitat in the region. Coyote expansion began around 1900 as they moved north into taiga forests, east into deciduous forests, west into costal temperate rain forests, and south into tropical rainforests. Forest fragmentation and the extirpation of larger predators probably enabled these expansions. In addition, hybridization with wolves (C. lupusC. lycaon, and/or C. rufus) and/or domestic dogs has been documented in the east, and suspected in the south. Our detailed account of the original range of coyotes and their subsequent expansion provides the core description of a large scale ecological experiment that can help us better understand the predator-prey interactions, as well as evolution through hybridization.<<<Read More>>>