How did coyotes conquer North America?

Coyotes now live across North America, from Alaska to Panama, California to Maine. But where they came from, and when, has been debated for decades.

Using museum specimens and fossil records, researchers from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University have produced a comprehensive (and unprecedented) range history of the expanding species that can help reveal the ecology of predation as well as evolution through hybridization. Their findings are published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The geographic distribution of coyotes has dramatically expanded since 1900, spreading across much of North America in a period when most other mammal species have been declining. Although this unprecedented expansion has been well-documented at the state/provincial scale, continent-wide picture of coyote spread been coarse and largely anecdotal. A more thorough compilation of available records was needed.

“We began by mapping the original range of coyotes using archaeological and fossil records,” says co-author Dr. Roland Kays, Head of the Museum’s Biodiversity Lab and Research Associate Professor in NC State’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources. “We then plotted their range expansion across North America from 1900 to 2016 using museum specimens, peer-reviewed reports, and game department records.”

In all, Kays and lead author James Hody, a graduate student at NC State University, reviewed more than 12,500 records covering the past 10,000 years for this study.

 Their findings indicate that coyotes historically occupied a larger area of North America than generally suggested in the literature. Previous maps, as it turns out, had ancient coyotes only located across the central deserts and grasslands. However, fossils from across the arid west link the distribution of coyotes from 10,000 years ago to specimens collected in the late 1800s, proving that their geographic range was not only broader but had been established for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, which also contradicts some widely-cited descriptions of their historical distribution.

 It wasn’t until approximately 1920 that coyotes began their expansion across North America. This was likely aided by an expansion of human agriculture, forest fragmentation, and hybridization with other species. Eastern expansion, in particular, was aided by hybridization with wolves and dogs, resulting in size and color variation among eastern coyotes.

Before too long, coyotes may no longer be just a North American species. Kays notes that coyotes are continually expanding their range in Central America, having crossed the Panama Canal in 2010. Active camera traps are now spotting coyotes approaching the Darien Gap, a heavily forested region separating North and South America, suggesting that they are at the doorstep of South America.

 “The expansion of coyotes across the American continent offers an incredible experiment for assessing ecological questions about their roles as predators, and evolutionary questions related to their hybridization with dogs and wolves,” adds Hody.

“By collecting and mapping these museum data we were able to correct old misconceptions of their original range, and more precisely map and date their recent expansions.”

“We hope these maps will provide useful context for future research into the ecology and evolution of this incredibly adaptive carnivore,” he concludes.

 

###

(Originally published on Eurekalert! by North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.)

 

Original source:

Hody JW, Kays R (2018) Mapping the expansion of coyotes (Canis latrans) across North and Central America. ZooKeys 759: 81–97. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.759.15149

Gehry’s Biodiversity Museum – favorite attraction for the butterflies and moths in Panama

Ahead of Gehry’s Biodiversity Museum‘s opening in October 2014, PhD candidate Patricia Esther Corro Chang, Universidad de Panama, studied the butterflies and moths which had been attracted by the bright colours of the walls and which were visiting the grounds of the tourist site.

The resulting checklist, published in the open access journal Biodiversity Data Journal, aims to both evaluate the biodiversity and encourage the preservation and development of the Amador Causeway (Calzada de Amador) and the four Causeway Islands. The name of the islands derives from their being linked to each other and the mainland via a causeway made of rocks excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal.

The researcher reports a total of six butterfly and eight moth families, identified from the 326 specimens collected over the course of 10 months from the botanical garden of the museum and adjacent areas. They represent a total of 52 genera and 60 species.

IMG_0096Interestingly, the eye-catching bright colours of the walls of the museum seem to play an important role for the insect fauna of the area. Not only are numerous butterflies and moths being attracted to the site, but they also express curious behaviour. On various occasions, for example, a species of skipper butterfly was seen to show a clear preference for yellowish surfaces. In their turn, a number of butterfly predators, such as jumping spiders, are also frequenting the walls.

The article in the journal provides knowledge of the butterfly and moth fauna at the mainly vegetated study area, located on a narrow strip of water distant from the city of Panama.

###

Original source:

Corro-Chang P (2017) Behavioural notes and attraction on Lepidoptera around the Gehry’s Biodiversity Museum (Causeway, Calzada de Amador, Panamá, República de Panamá). Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e11410. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.5.e11410