Canid Distribution and the Potential Impacts of Energy Development in Nebraska

Increasing 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 and likely densities 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 and continues to undergo significant declines. In Nebraska, swift fox currently occupy only 21% of their historical range, while coyotes have increased both in numbers and range throughout the state. Clearly generalists such as coyotes are capable of thriving in highly altered human landscapes, thus it is not surprising that their distribution has increased. What is less clear is why swift fox fail to occupy the 42% of Nebraska that continues to contain seemingly high quality swift fox 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 populations. 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.


The 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 energy development may alter these relationships.

Current Status

We are working to identify the ecological mechanisms shaping the distribution of canid communities across Nebraska by developing and testing a series of species distribution models based on the habitat requirements and intraguild interactions between coyote and swift fox.

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. Over the coming year data gathered from the camera traps will be used to develop predict models relating local and regional vegetation to the presence of various canid species.

Project Website
Nebraska Canid Project
Associated Files
Lucia preparing trail cameras. Photo: Adela Annis
Lucia preparing trail cameras. Photo: Adela Annis
Lucia and Lindsay Brown setting a camera trap station. Photo: Adela Annis
Lucia and Lindsay Brown setting a camera trap station. Photo: Adela Annis
Swift fox caught on a trail camera in western Nebraska. Photo: Adela Annis
Swift fox caught on a trail camera in western Nebraska. Photo: Adela Annis
Principal Investigator(s)
-Joseph (T.J.) Fontaine, NE CFWRU
-Teresa Frink, Chadron State College
Graduate Student(s)
-Lucia Corral, Ph.D.
Project Duration
January 2013 - January 2018
-Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
-Nebraska Department of Roads
Project Location
Western Nebraska