I was reading a text and came across:

The coyote population continues to grow despite efforts at trapping, shooting, and poisoning the animals.

Now, consider below sentence; is there any difference resulted by using different preposition? In brief, which preposition do you prefer?

It continues to grow despite efforts of / in trapping, shooting, and poisoning the animals.

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    I don't think instead of is correct here as there is no contradiction. For example you could write "The coyote population continues to grow instead of staying under control or declining." In your example, in spite of would be better. – user3169 Aug 24 '15 at 19:36

The difference in meaning between prepositions at and in in your example sentences, as far as I can judge, is really subtle. This is how I understand it.

When you say "effort at something", it refers to something as an undertaking, and calls it an effort, emphasizing that some energy/resources are required for it.

When you say "effort in something", it refers to some part of something that is not necessarily easy/simple, and emphasizes that those parts require certain energy/resources for the success.

As StoneyB points out "effort[s] to {infinitive}" is a more common form. I share that opinion.

As to the preposition 'of', it is used to invert a noun adjunct (noun-noun sequence) without change in meaning:

Horse mane >> The mane of a horse
Car engine >> The engine of a car

In this case one can say "trapping effort", or one can say "effort of trapping", but the meaning is different than with the preposition "in" or "at". In a noun-noun construct the first noun (the noun adjunct) serves the role of an adjective.

To me the sentence

The coyote population continues to grow despite efforts of trapping, shooting, and poisoning the animals.

somehow just doesn't sound right, most likely because a definite article before "efforts" is wanted.

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  • I cannot see his ( @StoneyB ) comment, could you please provide the link ? – Cardinal Aug 24 '15 at 20:10
  • The comment was probably deleted. It was to the effect that "efforts to verb" and "efforts at verb-ing" are the forms mostly used. – Victor Bazarov Aug 24 '15 at 20:13
  • And what about the of. I must say that the sentence is an academic text about the coyote. – Cardinal Aug 24 '15 at 20:49
  • Added to the answer... – Victor Bazarov Aug 24 '15 at 21:05
  • If in the pattern " noun-of-noun " , it is essential to use definite article ? However, I think I've got your point. – Cardinal Aug 24 '15 at 21:11

They used "at" because they wanted to say the efforts were unsuccessful. That is, they attempted to reduce the population, but failed.

A better way to put it, that makes better use of "at":

  • Despite efforts at controlling the population (trapping, shooting and poisoning)...

The sentence is not concerned with how much effort goes into each of these methods; the point is that each method is an effort, and these three efforts combined have failed to reduce the population.

(of course, one could just as well say "efforts to control)

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