Growth of ungulate populations is typically most sensitive to survival of neonates, which in turn is influenced by maternal nutritional condition and trade-offs in resource selection and avoidance of predators. We assessed whether resource use, multi-predator risk, maternal nutritional effects, hiding cover, or interactions among these variables best explained variation in daily survival of free-ranging neonatal white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) during their post-partum period (14 May-31 Aug) in Michigan, USA. We used Cox proportional hazards mixed-effects models to assess survival related to covariates of resource use, composite predation risk of 4 mammalian predators, fawn body mass at birth, winter weather, and vegetation growth phenology. Predation, particularly from coyotes (Canis latrans), was the leading cause of mortality; however, an additive model of non-ideal resource use and maternal nutritional effects explained 71% of the variation in survival. This relationship suggested that dams selected areas where fawns had poor resources, while greater predation in these areas led to additive mortalities beyond those related to resource use alone. Also, maternal nutritional effects suggested that severe winters resulted in dams producing smaller fawns, which decreased their likelihood of survival. Fawn resource use appeared to reflect dam avoidance of lowland forests with poor forage and greater use by wolves (C. lupus), their primary predator. While this strategy led to greater fawn mortality, particularly by coyotes, it likely promoted the life-long reproductive success of dams because many reached late-age (>10 years old) and could have produced multiple generations of fawns. Studies often link resource selection and survival of ungulates, but our results suggested that multiple factors can mediate that relationship, including multi-predator risk. We emphasize the importance of identifying interactions among biological and environmental factors when assessing survival of ungulates.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)