Coyotes are flourishing and expanding their range in North America. In coastal settings, it is possible that marine foods, such as seals or salmon, may be fueling their success. This project will explore the extent to which these types of foods are used by coyotes along the central coast of California, and how growing populations of coyotes impact other predators and their prey. To assess whether these types of effects are recent and perhaps facilitated by human activity or historical, samples from the same area thousands of years ago will be compared with recently-collected materials. Samples collected along transects that start at the ocean?s edge and penetrate kilometers inland will be tested in a variety of ways, including analyses of stable isotopes and genetic material. Data thus far suggest that marine foods are indeed important to modern coyotes, but not to coyotes living in the same area 2000 years ago. If this pattern holds, it would suggest that use of marine resources by contemporary coyotes is a new behavior.
A longer perspective on resource use by coyotes may have important implications for understanding and managing the ecological impacts of modern coyotes, especially in areas where they receive marine and other types of "extra" food, including food inadvertently provided by humans -- garbage and road kill, for example. Undergraduate students will be involved in the research, gaining valuable field and laboratory skills and being mentored in career development so that they can help solve environmental problems of the future. In addition, results of this research will be made available to the public through presentations at state parks where the research takes place, as well as through visits to local schools.