TWEL Ashley Wurth Dissertation

Behavior and genetic aspects of boldness and aggression in urban coyotes (Canis latrans)

Ashley Wurth, PhD

Advisor: Stanley D. Gehrt


Animals exhibit behaviors that may differ based on factors such as learning, social cues, the environment, and genetics. Coyotes are a large carnivore that inhabit the spectrum from rural to highly developed landscapes and have a tumultuous relationship with humans. To increase coexistence and decrease human-coyote conflict, it is important to analyze how urbanization may influence coyote behavior and genetics, and ultimately, coyote relationships with humans. My dissertation examines coyote genetics and behavior across a variety of urbanization levels in Illinois, from rural to the urban core of Chicago from 2014-2018. Through genotyping regions or specific SNPs associated with behavior (particularly boldness and aggression) in other species including the domestic dog, I first detected genetic polymorphisms in the coyote in these regions and then tested for differences in genotypic frequency based on landscape type. Through trapping coyotes in the Chicago Metropolitan Area, I studied behavioral actions across six contexts and tested for a relationship between boldness and aggression. Finally, I tested for correlations between behavior and genetic polymorphisms. I found 34 potential SNP locations in the dog and/or coyotes, with 11 SNPs only found in the coyote and 7 only found in the dog. In landscape analysis, 9 of the 21 polymorphic SNPs and 1 of 2 microsatellites had genotypic frequencies that varied based on urbanization level.

Coyotes exhibited varying behavioral actions within behavioral contexts with low boldness and aggression scores across all contexts and measures. For individuals that we were able to recapture (n = 14), boldness was repeatable but aggression had low repeatability and varied between contexts. Urban individuals were more likely to be bold and more likely to be aggressive. However, we did not find support for a single behavioral syndrome that underlies boldness and aggression, as there was no linear relationship between boldness and aggression. We found 9 SNPs and 1 microsatellite correlated with boldness and/or aggression measures, with 2 of these markers also correlated with behavior in dogs. Overall, coyotes had polymorphism within behavioral regions and exhibited various behaviors with frequencies that differed based on landscape type. Therefore, coyote boldness and aggression may be under genetic control with urban conditions acting as a selective pressure.