Foraging and feeding ecology

Wolves in central Europe feed primarily on roe deer, red deer and wild boar, locally also on fallow deer and mouflons. Elks (moose) and reindeer are often the wolves' primary prey in Scandinavia. In southern Europe where no wild ungulates are resident, livestock and waste, however, may account for an essential part of the wolves' diet.
The wolf monitoring programme also includes the continuous collection of wolf scats (faeces) to document the diet of the Saxon wolves. Since 2001, the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in Görlitz has analysed more than 3,500 scat samples from Saxony (last revised 31.03.2015, see graphic overleaf). The scat is examined with the naked eye and a microscope to assign the indigestible remnants of the diet such as hair, bone pieces and hoof pieces to the different prey species. The analysis of the results shows how often a certain food type can be found in the samples (frequency of occurrence). Ultimately, it even allows conclusions to be drawn about the weight percentages (biomass shares) of a prey species in the wolves' diet based on a specific conversion key.

According to this analysis, wolves in Saxony feed almost exclusively on wild ungulate species. All data having been collected since 2001 shows that roe deer as the primary prey species account for 52.0 % of the biomass, followed by red deer with a percentage of 19.8 % and wild boar with a percentage of 19.4 % of the Saxon wolves' diet. Fallow deer and mouflons that only exist in some areas of the current wolf country account for 1.8 % and 0.7 % of the biomass.
However, the analysis carried out over the years has also shown variations in the composition of the wolves' diet depending on the hunting year, the time of year and pack affiliation.

While roe deer is still the primary prey species, the biomass share of wild boar has been increasing continuously since the hunting year 2012/2013. At the same time, the biomass share of red deer has been decreasing so that wild boar now comes second in the wolves' diet.
This is mainly due to the fact that the prey species are not evenly distributed over the whole study area and red deer are usually only tolerated in designated "red deer areas". Over the last years, wolves have mainly established new territories in areas of Saxony with lower numbers of red deer. Roe deer and wild boar, however, are resident in almost all parts of Saxony. Even though, for example, the Niesky pack's main prey is still roe deer with a biomass share of 46.9 %; wild boar with a percentage of 29.1 % of the biomass is an important prey species too. Red deer, however, only account for 11.4 % of the pack's diet, as the analysis showed. In contrast, the prey killed and eaten in the Daubitz pack's territory with a high number of red deer comprises 34.3 % of red deer as well as 41.9 % of roe deer and 18.3 % of wild boar.

The individual packs hunt the species living in the study area to different extents. Hitherto, roe deer have been the main prey species throughout the study area. Although red deer can be found relatively often in certain areas of Lusatia, they account for only one fifth of the biomass as do wild boar. This is a particularity of this area. In other European regions (Eastern Poland, Scandinavia), the larger wild ungulates (red deer, elk, reindeer) are the typical main prey if available in large numbers. The reason for this preference may be the region-wide availability of roe deer and the low risk of injury connected with hunting this wild ungulate.
The diet of the Königsbrück Heath pack shows another particularity. Here the beaver accounts for as much as 7.2 % of the biomass consumed which is unique in Germany to date.

When analysing the composition of the wolves' diet over the whole year, it becomes obvious that they hunt wild boar mostly in spring when boar piglets are easy prey whereas they prefer red deer fawns in summer. The amount to which they feed on roe deer is almost the same all year round.

However, comparisons between different packs and over the hunting years also show that there are other prey species with a relatively consistent biomass share of the wolves' diet. Brown hares account for a biomass share as high as 3.6 %, for example. Livestock, almost exclusively sheep, are part of the wolves' diet from time to time, but only account for a very small share of the biomass consumed (1.0 %) and tend to be casual prey. Furthermore, the analysis of the diet also shows very small shares of small and medium-size mammals such as nutria, fox, racoon dogs and different mouse species as well as birds, fish and berries.

Holzapfel M., Kindervater, J., Lippitsch, P., Wagner C. & Ansorge H. (Senckenberg Museum of Natural History Görlitz)

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