Spatiotemporal variation in selection of roads influences mortality risk for canids in an unprotected landscape

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Ecologists are increasingly documenting individual variation in resource selection across populations in response to temporal or spatial environmental context. These behavioral patterns are assumed to be adaptive although previous studies have not linked them directly to survival and reproductive data to verify the assumed relationship between behavior and fitness. Recent work documented that higher density of secondary roads within home ranges of free-ranging canids (wolves, coyotes and hybrids) increased mortality risk in the hybrid zone adjacent to Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada. Here, we examine individual behavioral responses of canids to spatially varying levels of human-disturbance and determine whether these responses to secondary roads resulted in differential mortality risk for canids across the hybrid zone. Specifically, we investigated resource selection within home ranges with GPS telemetry to determine whether canids selected roads more at night than during the day to minimize dangerous encounters with humans. Next, we modeled individual variation in spatial and temporal responses to secondary roads to evaluate the relative importance of intrinsic (Canis ancestry) and extrinsic (resource availability) influences on their behavior. Behavioral responses to roads were not well explained by variation in Canis ancestry. Instead, canids avoided roads more during day than at night as a non-linear function of increased road availability. Furthermore, canids that survived exhibited a stronger relationship between day–night selection of roads and road availability than canids that died suggesting an adaptive nature of this behavior. By modifying their selection of roads between day and night, canids appear to be able to exploit the beneficial attributes of roads while mitigating human-caused mortality risk. However, not all canids responded adaptively highlighting the importance of explicitly linking patterns of resource selection to components of fitness to accurately model and interpret individual variation in resource selection behavior of animals.

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