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How do New Yorkers Perceive Coyotes? Interview with a Gotham Coyote Social Scientist: Brielle Manzolillo
We Gotham Coyote researchers love NYC’s coyote population, but what do other New Yorkers think about these urban animals? Brielle Manzolillo did a research project through Pace University’s Environmental Studies and Science Department to find out New Yorkers real opinion on their coyote neighbors. Read about her study and its surprising preliminary results in this interview with Brielle.
Brielle presenting a poster of her research at the Northeast Natural History Conference
What was the research you did with the Gotham Coyote Project?
The research I did for the Gotham Coyote Project was a human-dimensions based project. The research was on human's perceptions of urban coyotes in the New York City. I went into Pelham Bay and Riverdale Park's and surveyed park goers about coyotes. With this data, I then analyzed the answers to the surveys in order to accurately gauge participants perceptions of urban coyotes.
What was the most surprising discovery that you made during your study? Or, what was the most interesting thing that happened while conducting your research?
Some of the most interesting data I found was that many people I surveyed were unaware that coyotes were living in these parks. I also found that many people were [unaware of] the appropriate ways they should react to a coyote interaction, for example, a few people answered "run away screaming" when asked what they would do if a coyote approached them. [...]
Watch this video on how to react if you see a coyote in your neighborhood.. Read about what to do if you encounter a coyote during pupping season, or when walking your dog.
Another surprising finding was that many people thought that coyotes should not be allowed to live in New York City. But these respondents, in general, were supportive of leaving coyotes alone in nature. [ie. more remote open space outside New York City. What this suggests is that some New Yorkers do not see their city or city green spaces as “nature” and hence coyotes do not belong in NYC. Gotham Coyote co-founder, Mark Weckel, explores this disconnect between cities and nature and the role coyotes can play in closing the divide here.]
Brielle talking about her research with other Gotham Coyote scientists
How did you become interested in science?
I have always been interested in more social based sciences. Before going into college, I thought I wanted to major in sociology because I was always fascinated by how people’s perceptions of the world are shaped by society.
However, my love of nature and the environment was always strong. This is why I chose to major in Environmental Studies. The "studies" aspect of the major allowed me to learn about how humans are interacting with the environment and how their perceptions are influencing how the environment is changing.
What was your first ever science project?
This is my first ever "science" project! It was my first time going out into the field and doing research on my own.
This interview was conducted by Olivia Allison Asher, intern with the Gotham Coyote Project author of The Science Notebook Blog.
By Olivia Allison Asher
Photos from the Gotham Coyote Project's camera traps
Seasons govern the lives of coyotes. Right now, in the dark winter, it is mating season.
Coyotes mate once a year, between mid-January to mid-February, because female coyotes are monestrous, meaning they only produce eggs and are fertile once a year. Sometimes overly-hopeful male coyotes try to mate outside of mating season, but their female partners brush them off.
Coyotes are generally monogamous, and in most cases they stay in the same mating pair for life. Starting in mid-January, these mating pairs start play-wrestling and play-chasing each other more often. The pairs also groom and sniff each other and engage in more physical contact.
At the end of January and the beginning of February coyotes actively begin mating with their partners. Mating continues regularly through mid-February, when the female coyote’s fertility period ends. Then, female coyotes who become pregnant gestate for about 60-63 days and give birth to pups between March and April.
Not all female coyotes become pregnant after mating season, but it is difficult to distinguish between pregnant coyotes and non-pregnant coyotes. Why? Non-pregnant coyotes often become pseudopregnant and act like they are pregnant. One typical behavior of pregnant coyotes is begging for regurgitated food from their mates, a behavior mimicked by pseudopregnant coyotes. Pseudopregnant and pregnant coyotes even have the same levels of the hormone progesterone which prepares the uterus for pregnancy.
Other hormones associated with pregnancy and birth like relaxin, which prepares the body for labor, and prolactin, which instigates milk production, are found at different at different levels in pregnant and pseudopregnant coyotes.
Of course, pseudopregnant coyotes do not give birth to pups, so what is the purpose of a pseudopregnancy? Here are some ideas:
Pregnant behavior, like begging for regurgitated food, strengthens the bond between mating coyote pairs, even if the female isn’t actually pregnant. Since coyotes live and hunt with their mates throughout their entire life, maintaining a strong pair bond is crucial.
Pseudopregnancy helps coyotes continue their seasonal life cycle. By becoming pregnant or pseudopregnant, female coyotes signal that mating season is over. Coyotes always give birth in the spring when resources are abundant and they have plenty of time to raise their pups while the weather is warm. If mating season continued longer, it could throw off the seasonal clock and result in pups born at an inconvenient time, possibly jeopardizing the pup’s health.
Carlson and E. M. Gese. “Influence of exogenous gonadotropin-releasing hormone on seasonal reproductive behavior of the coyote (Canis latrans).” Theriogenology, vol. 72, no. 6, 1 Oct. 2009, pp. 773-783. ScienceDirect, doi: 10.1016/j.theriogenology.2009.05.012
Carlson and E. M. Gese. “Integrity
of mating behaviors and seasonal reproduction in coyotes (Canis latrans) following treatment with estradiol benzoate.” Animal Reproduction Science, vol. 117, no. 3-4, Feb. 2010, pp. 322-330. ScienceDirect, doi: 10.1016/j.anireprosci.2009.05.008
Carlson and E. M. Gese. “Reproductive Biology of the Coyote (Canis latrans): Integration of Mating Behaviors, Reproductive Hormones, and Vaginal Cytology.” Journal of Mammalogy, vol. 89, no. 3, June 2008, pp. 654-664. Jstor, www.jstor.org/stable/25145142
Hennessy, Dubach, Gehrt, and B. J. Swanson. “Long-term pair bonding and genetic evidence for monogamy among urban coyotes (Canis latrans).” Journal of Mammalogy, vol. 93, no. 3, June 2012, pp. 732-742. Jstor, www.jstor.org/stable/23259969
By Olivia Allison Asher
Photos by Olivia Allison Asher and Mark Weckel
Gotham Coyote scientists, and students from the American Museum of Natural History’s Science Research Mentoring Program, Mianus River Gorge’s Wildlife Technician Program, and Wave Hill’s Woodland Ecology Research Mentoring Program went out in the field on a beautiful Saturday in November to search for New York City coyote droppings.
In my last blog post, I wrote about how the Gotham Coyote Project uses coyote scat to study the diet of coyotes in New York City, but before we can analyze scat we need to find it.
Locating scat isn’t exactly easy. Coyote droppings blend in with the ground and leaves almost perfectly, but luckily for coyote scat collectors, coyotes use their excrement as territory markers. This means they want their scat to be seen and smelled by other animals. To make their territory known, coyotes defecate out in the open, often right on the hiking path.
The Gotham Coyote Project gathered a large group of scientists, their students, and a few amateur scat-detecting dogs this November to search for scat. The seasoned scat collectors of our group, Dr. Chris Nagy, Dr. Mark Weckel, and Ferdie Yau and his dog Scout, taught first-time scat collectors like myself the best ways to spot scat among the fallen leaves
We found a fair amount of scat on our hike, and enjoyed the stunning scenery along the way.
Lately we’ve been finding all types of shellfish in the coyote scat collected in Jamaica Bay. These restored oyster reefs off Hunter Island might explain that!
By Olivia A. Asher thesciencenotebookblog.blogspot.com
I’m an intern at the Gotham Coyote Project and I spend most of my time picking through coyote scat. If you don’t know that technical term, scat is another word for excrement. What I’m looking for in the scat is undigested prey items like hair, feathers, bone fragments, and plant material.
I examine the prey items under a microscope and compare them to hair and bone from mammals in the reference collection at the American Museum of Natural History to figure out exactly what animals New York City coyotes are eating. For example, if I find a hair in a scat sample I look for a mammal with similar hair in the reference collection and then compare the two hairs to see if they match up. Every time I figure out what a coyote ate - was it a squirrel, or a deer, or a muskrat? - I feel like a master detective. So far the team and I have found that NYC coyotes are mainly eating small mammals, birds, deer, and fruit.
Coyotes living in New York City are a hot topic right now which makes researching them all the more exciting. When I see news stories like today's article in Village Voice about coyotes in New York City, I feel like I know a celebrity. I want to shout “I know those coyotes! I examine their scat!”
I first got my hands on coyote scat about a year ago as an intern from the Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP), a program at the American Museum of Natural History which pairs high school students with scientists on novel research projects. During the SRMP I worked with a team of three other high school students. Now, I have graduated high school and I continue to work at the museum with the Gotham Coyote Project as a volunteer. Making contributions to research is thrilling
Check out the poster my team and I made on the preliminary results on the diet of New York City coyotes! And to learn more about students studying coyotes in New York City, watch the videos linked here:
Students at the American Museum of Natural History’s Science Research Mentoring Program:
Students at Wave Hill’s Woodland Ecology Research Mentorship:
Gotham Coyote researchers published an essay exploring the role that the northeastern coyote can play for understanding and promoting conservation in cities such as New York City, ideas originally explored in a blog post in 2013. Click here for the full article.
Abstract: Flagship species have played an important role in defining and promoting various conservation causes. Over the past several years, the importance of and need for conservation in urban environments has grown as our cities and their footprints have dramatically expanded. Yet, cities face constant change and the mark of humans is the landscape’s most prominent feature. This brings new challenges for practicing conservation in cities and in communicating its goals. In this essay, we demonstrate how a flagship species could be used to articulate the themes of urban conservation using the northeastern coyote or coywolf (Canis latrans var. or C. latrans × lycaon) as an example. We demonstrate how the natural history of the northeastern coyote can serve as an entry point to conceptualizing and communicating key concepts including ecosystem novelty (e.g., the northeastern coyote as an unintentional, but anthropogenic hybrid of canid lineages), resilience thinking (e.g., the northeastern coyote as apex predator following a period of defaunation and continued predator control), and the breakdown of the human-nature divide (e.g., the northeastern coyote as possessing elements of wilderness despite being a product of anthropogenic change). These are ideas that have come to define, and challenge, the field of urban conservation.
It is rare for a new animal species to emerge in front of scientists’ eyes. But this seems to be happening in eastern North America.
LIKE some people who might rather not admit it, wolves faced with a scarcity of potential sexual partners are not beneath lowering their standards. It was desperation of this sort, biologists reckon, that led dwindling wolf populations in southern Ontario to begin, a century or two ago, breeding widely with dogs and coyotes. The clearance of forests for farming, together with the deliberate persecution which wolves often suffer at the hand of man, had made life tough for the species. That same forest clearance, though, both permitted coyotes to spread from their prairie homeland into areas hitherto exclusively lupine, and brought the dogs that accompanied the farmers into the mix. READ MORE
By Rebecca Harrington
The Gotham Coyote Project is using cameras, citizen scientists and environmental DNA to study coyotes as they move into New York City, and eventually, Long Island. READ MORE