What drives wolf preference towards wild ungulates? Insights from a multi-prey system in the Slovak Carpathians

PLoS One. 2022 Jun 27;17(6):e0265386. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0265386. eCollection 2022.


The wolf is a generalist-opportunistic predator that displays diverse and remarkably adaptable feeding strategies across its range with local adaptations to certain prey species depending on their availability and vulnerability. The multi-prey system of the Slovak Carpathians supports important portion of the European wolf population; however, it has been markedly understudied. We evaluated winter diet composition and prey selection of Slovak wolves based on 321 scat samples collected between September-April within four different study areas during 2015-2017. The winter diet of wolves in the Slovak Carpathians was characterized by a 98% occurrence of wild large-sized and medium-sized ungulates with red deer occurring in wolf scats most often, consistent with their highest density among other wild ungulates. However, by comparing the consumption with availability of wild prey, we found that wolves in fact selected for wild boar especially in areas with higher altitudinal range, while selected for red deer in areas with low altitudinal range where this prey species was more spatially predictable. Although wolves showed the potential to switch between red deer and wild boar when their density increases, we found that this variation can be rather linked to changing prey vulnerability, which is dependent on particular environmental conditions at local scale such as topography and snow accumulation. The present study provides valuable insights into the winter foraging ecology of Slovak wolves in a multi-prey system of the Carpathians and allows for practical implications in the management of the rapidly increasing populations of wild ungulates across Europe.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Deer*
  • Diet
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Slovakia
  • Sus scrofa
  • Swine
  • Wolves*

Grant support

This publication is the result of the implementation of the projects: “Comprehensive research of mitigation and adaptation measures to diminish the negative impacts of climate change on forest ecosystems in Slovakia” FORRES (ITMS 313011T678), and “Research and development of non-contact methods for obtaining geospatial data for forest monitoring to streamline forest management and improve forest protection” FOMON (ITMS 313011V465), both supported by the Operational Programme Integrated Infrastructure (OPII); and “Centre of Excellence: Adaptive Forest Ecosystems” (ITMS 26220120006) and “Completing the Centre of Excellence: Adaptive Forest Ecosystems” (ITMS 26220120049) both supported by the Operational Programme Research and Development. All projects were funded within the European Regional Development Fund. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript