Sells, S.N., M.S. Mitchell, D.E. Ausband, A.D. Luis, D.J. Emlen, K.M Podruzny, and J.A. Gude. 2022. Economical defense of resources structures territorial space use in a cooperative carnivore. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B. 289.
Ecologists have long sought to understand space use and mechanisms underlying patterns observed in nature. We developed an optimality landscape and mechanistic territory model for gray wolves (Canis lupus) to understand mechanisms driving space use and how wolves structure territories. In the model, simulated packs selected territories to economically meet resource requirements by selecting patches with greatest net value, accounting for benefits, costs, and tradeoffs of defending and using space on the optimality landscape. Economical territory selection successfully predicted the population’s distribution, territory sizes of packs, and how spatial requirements are influenced by local ecosystems, prey density, competitor density, and human-caused mortality risk. Economical territory selection is a mechanistic bridge between space use and animal distribution on the landscape. This knowledge can inform conservation.