Wolves & Coyotes: Yellowstone’s Cousins
Lamar Buffalo Ranch
Joanna Lambert, Ph.D.
In this seminar we will explore the exciting story of Yellowstone’s beloved evolutionary cousins: gray wolves (Canis lupus) and coyotes (Canis latrans). While fossils suggest that these two species diverged over a million years ago, more recent genetic analyses suggest that that this divergence may have been as recent as approximately 50,000 years ago – just a blink in evolutionary time! Yet while many similarities exist between these two species, important ecological and behavioral differences occur too. Gray wolves are distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere (North America, Europe, and Asia), whereas coyotes are a true American species, found only in North and – now – Central America. Gray wolves will always seek out and spend their lives in social groups, while coyotes often live as solitary individuals. Both species were targeted throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in US predator control campaigns, but though gray wolf numbers plummeted, teetering on the edge of extinction in the US by the 1960s, the distribution of coyotes has continuously expanded over the past 50+ years. What accounts for these differences? Just how similar are they? In the field, lecture, and film we will explore the evolutionary history of coyotes and wolves, observe and discuss their similarities and differences, and gain a rich appreciation of the behavior and ecology of these two iconic Yellowstone canids.
The itinerary is designed to take advantage of the best opportunities in the park, but may be adjusted to adapt to weather conditions, wildlife activity, holidays, and road construction. The details and timing of the agenda are subject to change. For more information view the Course Letter below.
- Day 1 Orientation
The program starts with an evening orientation during which participants will be introduced to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch and go over Field Seminar overview and itinerary.
- Days 2-4 Wildlife Watching and Observations
Participants will spend each morning in the field looking for wolves and coyotes and observing their behavior, with the idea of spending as little time in the vehicle as possible. If other canids are encountered (i.e., red fox) observation will be made of them as well. Emphasis will be on the northern range. Also, of course, we will spontaneously take advantage of all amazing wildlife sightings! After a morning spent in the field, participants will return to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch for a late lunch, a bit of down time, then a lecture. Each late afternoon the students will be given the option of going on a guided natural history hike in which animals will be observed. Depending on time, an early evening animal viewing drive might also be an option.
- Day 5
Check out by 9:00 a.m.
About the instructor
Joanna Lambert, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder. She has a deep passion for the natural world, resulting in a career spent publishing and teaching about the behavior, ecology, and conservation biology of wild mammals, especially primates and carnivores. Her research has taken her to every continent on the planet, though she has spent the most time (30 years) in equatorial Africa and especially enjoys doing research and teaching in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
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