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Prey preferences of the coyote (Canis latrans) throughout its North American distribution

Cite this dataset

Hayward, Matt W. (2022). Prey preferences of the coyote (Canis latrans) throughout its North American distribution [Dataset]. Dryad.


The coyote Canis latrans is one of the most studied species in North America with at least 510 papers on its diet alone. While this research has yielded excellent reviews of what coyotes eat, it has been inadequate to draw deeper conclusions because no synthesis to date has considered prey availability. We accounted for prey availability by investigating the prey preferences of coyotes across the species’ distribution using the traditional Jacobs’ index method, as well as the new iterative preference averaging method on scats and biomass. We found that coyotes preferred Dall’s sheep Ovis dalli, white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus, eastern cottontail rabbits Sylvilagus floridanus and California voles Microtus californicus, which yielded a predator to preferred prey ratio of 1:2. We also found that coyotes avoided preying on other small mammals, including carnivorans and arboreal species. There was strong concordance between the traditional and iterative preference averaging method on scats, but this pattern was not detected when biomass was considered. General linear models revealed coyotes preferred to prey upon larger species that were riskier to hunt, reflecting their ability to hunt in groups, and were least likely to hunt solitary species. Coyotes increasingly preferred mule deer O. hemionus and snowshoe hares Lepus americanus at higher latitudes, whereas black-tailed jackrabbit Lepus californicus were increasingly preferred towards the tropics. Mule deer were increasingly preferred at higher coyote densities, while black-tailed jackrabbit were increasingly avoided at higher coyote densities. Coyote predation could constrain the realized niche of prey species at the predator species’ distributional limits through their increased efficiency of predation reflected in increased prey preference values. These results are integral to improved understandings of coyote ecology and can inform predictive analyses allowing for spatial variation, which ultimately will lead to better understandings about the coyote’s ecological role across different ecosystems.


Data was sourced from the literature.

Usage notes

Data were collated in Microsoft Excel