Motion sensor cameras installed along protected California shoreline show impact of coyotes on tidal habitats

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A lactating female wolf carries a dead okra chiton carcass in her mouth at Vandenberg Space Force Base. credit: food webs (2023). doi: 10.1016/j.fooweb.2023.e00311

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A lactating female wolf carries a dead okra chiton carcass in her mouth at Vandenberg Space Force Base. credit: food webs (2023). doi: 10.1016/j.fooweb.2023.e00311

A trio of ecologists and marine biologists at the University of California has discovered that coyotes are a more consistent consumer of marine animals in intertidal habitats along California’s shores than previously thought. In their study, reported in the journal food websZoe Zils, Stephanie Copeland and Hillary Young set up motion-sensing cameras along protected beaches in Southern California.

Previous research has shown that motion-sensing cameras can be a very valuable tool when trying to learn more about wild animals that live in certain environments. Motion cameras can be set up in remote locations to capture wildlife such as coyotes.

For this new study, the research trio were contacted by residents living in a community along California’s Gaviota Coast, and asked to look at photos they took of the diverse wildlife visiting the nearby protected shoreline. Inspired by the images, the trio set up 40 motion-sensing cameras along the coast and beaches of the Dangermond Reserve and Space Force Base Vandenberg — both of which also have protected natural beaches.


A coyote holding a small fish in its mouth on the beach at Jack and Laura Dangermond Sanctuary. credit: food webs (2023). doi: 10.1016/j.fooweb.2023.e00311

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A coyote holding a small fish in its mouth on the beach at Jack and Laura Dangermond Sanctuary. credit: food webs (2023). doi: 10.1016/j.fooweb.2023.e00311

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The researchers were surprised to learn how many coyotes visited the beaches at all three sites. They were also surprised to learn how much seafood the coyotes caught and ate. They describe the number of visitors as being much greater than expected, making coyotes a major consumer of intertidal habitats. They point out that this means it has a major impact on other species that visit the same shoreline. By leaving their excrement behind, coyotes fertilize the ground, allowing an abundance of vegetation to grow, which other animals can use as a place to live or to forage.

The researchers also identified many other visitors to the area as well, such as feral pigs, deer, cats, mountain lions and even black bears. Small animals included opossum, skunk and raccoon. The team stresses the need for more research in similar areas as a way to learn more about organisms that can have a significant impact on a particular ecosystem.

more information:
Zoe L. Zilz et al., Ongoing Foraging of Marine Resources by Coyotes (Canis latrans) on the Southern California Coast, food webs (2023). doi: 10.1016/j.fooweb.2023.e00311

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