Molecular Ecology and Human Dimensions of Coyotes in New York City

Carol Shelby Henger, Fordham University


As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, wildlife species will have to adjust to living in heterogenous landscapes altered by human development, or risk becoming extirpated from them. For carnivores, public attitudes towards them can influence where they can live and how big their populations can grow. Noninvasive sampling of an elusive carnivore species can provide information about its colonization history as well as genetic and behavioral changes associated with inhabiting an urban environment. Additionally, Human Dimensions research allows for insight into the social perspectives towards carnivores. Here I study a recently established breeding population of coyotes (Canis latrans) inhabiting New York City (NYC). I used molecular scatology to examine their population genetics and diet, and I assessed the attitudes of New Yorkers toward them. The NYC coyote population exhibited reduced genetic variation due to a founder effect from colonization. However, the genetic diversity increased as more coyotes migrated into the city. The coyotes were related to each other within and between the different parks, but there was no indication that they were inbreeding. Genetic analysis provided evidence that they maintained their monogamous mating system within the urban environment. The diet of the NYC coyote population consisted of a variety of mammals and plant species supplemented with anthropogenic food, and it did not differ substantially from the diet of non-urban coyotes. I distinguished social narratives and attributes towards coyotes that can be used to frame messages about coexistence. My dissertation improves our understanding of the ecology of a mid-sized predator in a highly urbanized landscape and the social perspectives toward that predator.

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Recommended Citation

Henger, Carol Shelby, "Molecular Ecology and Human Dimensions of Coyotes in New York City" (2020). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI27957841.