Monitoring wolves and coyotes in the wild is challenging since they are notoriously wary of humans and novel items in their environment. They also typically occupy large home ranges at low densities. However, like your family pet, wild canids love to rub and roll in intoxicating smells. NWRC researchers, WS Operations field specialists, and Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit researchers in Texas and Montana took advantage of this natural behavior and tested whether lures and rubbing posts could be used to monitor coyote and wolf populations.
“Encouraging coyotes and wolves to rub a post or the ground─ something they would do naturally─ has advantages over other sampling methods, such as scat transects,” notes NWRC’s Dr. Julie Young, field station leader in Logan, Utah. “Whereas scat counts are opportunistic─ not only must the animal leave scat, but a surveyor must find it─ rub stations can be strategically placed in the environment in accordance with specific sampling designs. This provides us with an inexpensive way to monitor populations, estimate abundance and explore genetic diversity.”
The technique proved successful with both coyotes and wolves rubbing on man-made and natural structures scented with lures. The majority of the hair collected at the sites contained extractable DNA.
Researchers note that rub stations may be useful for surveying areas where canid distribution is unknown and detection-nondetection data are desired, in areas of presumed low density where traditional sign surveys are ineffective, or where traditional capture methods are ineffective or infeasible. To use this method, researchers recommend the following:
1. Using ground-based devices to detect coyotes.
2. Using rub stations with natural collection devices to detect wolves.
3. If hairs have obvious roots, 10 hairs collected from a single device should constitute one sample for DNA analysis. When roots are not evident, 20 hairs should constitute one sample.
4. Checking stations at least every 2-4 nights. Longer times between rub-station checks can lead to multiple and mixed samples.
5. Using a large amount (≥5mL) of lure that elicits rub/roll behavior, is sulfuric or smells of rotting meat.
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