Conversion of grasslands throughout the Great Plains has led to significant declines in the distribution and abundance of a variety of grassland obligate species and associated increases in habitat generalists. For example, the distribution of generalist carnivores, including coyote (Canis latrans) and red fox (Vulpes vulpes) have increased throughout much of North America, while the closely related grassland obligate, swift fox (V. velox) has undergone significant declines. In Nebraska, swift fox is currently estimated to occupy only 21% of their historical range, while coyotes have increased in numbers and range throughout Nebraska. It is not surprising that generalists such as coyotes are capable of thriving in highly altered human landscapes, but what is less clear is why swift fox fail to occupy the 42% of Nebraska that continues to contain suitable habitat.
As the largest canid in Nebraska, coyotes are dominant to swift fox and are often cited as an important source of mortality for swift fox. As such, increases in the abundance and distribution of coyotes following the development of the Great Plains may have inadvertently restricted the range of swift fox despite the availability of suitable habitats. With increasing interest in developing infrastructure in the shortgrass prairie for gas, oil and wind energy resources, there is a clear need to identify the mechanism limiting the distribution of grassland obligate species such as swift fox, and how anthropogenic change is likely to alter important ecological relationships.
GoalsThe project goal is to understand how habitat structure, landscape attributes, and behavioral intraguild interactions, across multiple spatial and temporal scales, affect habitat use and geographic distribution of Nebraska’s canids species and how development may alter these relationships.
From 2014 to 2016, we surveyed for canids across 26,000 square miles of western Nebraska using baited camera traps. With the help of 130 private landowners, we were able to deploy 2,300 camera trap sets, for nearly 28,000 trap nights resulting in over 5 million photos. We have used the camera trap data to develop predict models relating local and regional vegetation to the presence of various canid species.
Project WebsiteNebraska Canid Project
Principal Investigator(s)-Joseph (T.J.) Fontaine, NE CFWRU
-Teresa Frink, Chadron State College
Graduate Student(s)-Lucia Corral, Ph.D.
Project DurationJanuary 2013 - December 2018
Funding-Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
-Nebraska Department of Roads