Fire-mediated foraging trade-offs in white-tailed deer

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Predation risk can induce individual prey to express behavioral, physiological, and morphological traits that can influence population-level processes. Maternal care is an intuitive link between predator-mediated traits of individuals and population-level processes because maternal investment can decrease with predation risk, and often influences processes such as neonatal growth, survival, and recruitment. During fawn-rearing, many ungulate species restrict space use to a fraction of their home range. Selection of and within these areas can influence the quality of concealment cover for fawns and forage availability during early lactation which is the peak of maternal investment. Fire influences the distribution of food resources and cover for prey and their predators. In frequently burned systems, ungulates typically move into recently burned areas to exploit increased forage quality and detection of predators that use cover to stalk their prey. We investigated the effects of time since fire on the selection of and within fawnrearing areas and foraging behavior in white-tailed deer in a frequently burned pine savanna. White-tailed deer selected woodlands with greater time since fire and avoided recently burned areas, likely sacrificing forage quality for concealment cover during fawn-rearing. We then used camera data to test the effects of time since fire on foraging behavior and found that with increased time since fire female white-tailed deer are more likely to be feeding while foraging at concentrated resources of standardized quality and quantity. By combining these data, we revealed that the counterintuitive avoidance of high-quality forage in recently burned areas can be explained by predation risk. We documented fire effects on proactive (i.e., avoidance of recent burns) and reactive (decreased vigilance with increasing time since fire) antipredator behaviors in white-tailed deer during the fawning season. Our results suggest that fire can spatially and temporally alter a landscape causing dynamic predation risk to which prey must respond to maximize fitness.



Canis latrans, coyote, fawn, fire ecology, foraging behavior, longleaf pine, maternal investment, Odocoileus virginianus, predation risk, prescribed fire, time since fire, vigilance