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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Do Coyotes Eat Mesocarnivores in Southern California? A Molecular Genetic Analysis


Urban coyotes are commonly exposed to rodenticides used to control non-native commensal rodents, but these rodents are rare in published accounts of their diets. An alternative source of rodenticide exposure is through the consumption of mesocarnivores that have themselves eaten either toxic bait directly or poisoned rodents or invertebrates. Carcasses of 311 nuisance and road-killed coyotes from suburban and urban areas of southern California were collected from 2016-2018. Stomachs were dissected and prey items were identified visually. Stomach contents containing tissue from suspected mammalian prey (N = 178) were homogenized and DNA was extracted. Genus-specific primers (123-366 bp) were designed for Virginia opossums, raccoons, and striped skunks, regionally common species that are known to be consumed by coyotes. PCR was performed for each primer pair, and presence of PCR products of particular amplicon lengths were determined by gel electrophoresis. Coyote stomachs containing a PCR product of the appropriate size were considered to contain that prey item. Land use data were used to assess landscape factors that are associated with the consumption of mesocarnivores. Combining both techniques, mesocarnivores were detected at low frequencies: opossums (8%) were more common than raccoons (2%) and skunks (2%). Some 72% of meso-carnivores present in stomachs were detected by molecular methods, while 66% were identified by morphological methods. Opossums were associated with increased development and anthropogenic land use, while skunks were associated with large natural areas, and raccoons used all habitat types. The extent to which mesocarnivores themselves eat poisoned prey remains unknown, although they may be a potential source of exposure for coyotes. Additionally, landscape factors do not appear to be related to raccoon consumption but may influence presence, and therefore consumption, of skunks and opossums.

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