Activity patterns and temporal predator avoidance of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) during the fawning season


In the presence of a predator, prey may alter their temporal activity patterns to reduce the risk of an encounter that may induce injury or death. Prey perception of predation risk and antipredator responses may increase in the presence of dependent offspring. We conducted a camera trap study during summer 2015 in North Carolina and Tennessee, USA to evaluate temporal avoidance of a predator (coyote Canis latrans) by white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). We analyzed activity patterns of bucks, does, and nursery groups (i.e., groups that included fawns) relative to those of coyotes to determine the coefficient of overlap (Delta) using a kernel density estimator. We found that bucks and does had similar Delta with coyotes [Delta(1) = 0.729 (0.629-0.890) and Delta(1) = 0.686 (0.558-0.816, respectively] and exhibited crepuscular activity patterns comparable to those of coyotes. However, nursery groups displayed a dramatically different activity pattern: unimodal activity was concentrated in the middle of the day with little overlap with coyote activity [Delta(1) = 0.362 (0.176-0.491)]. Because adult deer are rarely prey for coyotes, whereas fawns are common prey during summer, the shift in activity patterns of nursery groups demonstrates a behavioral shift likely aimed at avoiding coyote predation on fawns.

Camera traps, Canis latrans, Landscape of fear, Reproductive condition, Risky time hypothesis, Prey-predator interaction