Coyotes (Canis latrans) and the matching law

Behav Processes. 2009 Oct;82(2):178-83. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2009.06.005. Epub 2009 Jun 23.


Environmental change is accelerating due to anthropogenic influence. Species that have greater behavioral flexibility may be better adapted to exploit new or constantly changing habitats. There are few mammals and even fewer carnivores that better illustrate widespread adaptability and behavioral flexibility in the wake of human disturbance than coyotes (Canis latrans). Yet how such predators successfully track resources, enabling them to survive and extend their range in stochastic environments remains unknown. We tested eight wild-born, captive coyotes individually on an operant two-choice test using concurrent variable interval (VI) schedules. We held the overall rate of reinforcement constant but manipulated the ratio of reinforcement available from the two choices. We analyzed sensitivity of coyotes' tracking of resource change by fitting the generalized matching equation to the data. Results showed all coyotes efficiently tracked changes in reinforcement ratios within the first few sessions of each new condition and matched their relative rate of foraging time to relative rate of resources. We suggest the matching paradigm provides a methodology to explore coyote foraging strategies, and a potential framework to compare behavioral flexibility across species, by measuring the ability to track resource change under variable resource conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Conditioning, Operant*
  • Coyotes / psychology*
  • Ecosystem
  • Female
  • Male
  • Predatory Behavior*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology