Breeding chronology and social interactions affect ungulate foraging behavior at a concentrated food resource

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Prey species must balance predator avoidance behavior with other essential activities including foraging, breeding, and social interactions. Anti-predator behaviors such as vigilance can impede resource acquisition rates by altering foraging behavior. However, in addition to predation risk, foraging behavior may also be affected by socio-sexual factors including breeding chronology and social interactions. Therefore, we investigated how time-of-day, distance-to-forest, group size, social interactions (presence of different sex-age class), and breeding chronology (pre-breeding, breeding, post-breeding seasons) affected probability of feeding (hereafter: feeding) for different sex and age-classes (mature males, immature males, adult females, and juveniles) of white-tailed deer at feed sites. We developed a set of candidate models consisting of social, habitat, reproductive, and abiotic factors and combinations of these factors. We then used generalized linear mixed models (GLMMs) to estimate the probability of feeding and used model averaging of competing models for multimodel inference. Each adult sex-age class’ feeding was influenced by breeding chronology. Juveniles were more likely to be feeding than adults in all seasons. Feeding increased with group size for all sex-age classes. The presence of a mature male negatively influenced the feeding of immature males and juveniles were more likely to be feeding when an adult female was present. Feeding decreased with increasing distance-to-forest for mature males but not for other sex-age classes. Our results indicate that each sex-age class modulates vigilance levels in response to socio-sexual factors according to the unique pressures placed upon them by their reproductive status and social rank.