Behavioral response of white-tailed deer to coyote predation risk – 2018.

Gulsby, W.E., M.J. Cherry, J.T. Johnson, L.M. Conner, and K.V. Miller.  2018.  Ecosphere 9(3):e02141.10.1002/ecs2.2141

Behavioral responses of prey to predation risk can affect lower trophic levels. White‐tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus; hereafter deer) increase vigilance in response to coyote (Canis latrans) presence, but vigilance responses to spatiotemporal variation in coyote abundance are unknown. Therefore, we examined the relationship between deer foraging behavior and coyote abundance on two 2000‐ha study areas in Georgia, USA, during 2010–2013. We used baited camera traps during fall and winter to quantify deer behavior (i.e., feeding or vigilant) and estimated coyote abundance using fecal genotyping to noninvasively mark and recapture individuals. During 2011 and 2012, coyote removals were implemented on each study area. Coyote abundance (i.e., predation risk) varied spatiotemporally and was a predictor of foraging behavior during at least one season for all sex‐age classes of deer except juveniles. Adult males were more sensitive to predation risk in winter, after the breeding season, whereas adult females were sensitive to predation risk during both seasons, but more so during fall when offspring are at greater risk. Yearling males were more sensitive to predation risk than adult males, and juveniles were least sensitive to predation risk, likely because of inexperience and high energetic demands. Reproductive chronology explained sex‐specific and seasonal antipredator responses to predation risk, but there was a non‐linear relationship between indirect predator effects and direct predation risk for some sex‐age classes. Our results suggest deer detect and respond behaviorally to variation in coyote abundance. Due to the widespread distribution of deer and their interactions at multiple trophic levels, the ecological implications of this finding may be wide‐reaching.

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