Can coyotes affect deer populations in southeastern North America?
The coyote (Canis latrans) is a recent addition to the fauna of eastern North America, and in many areas coyote populations have been established for only a decade or two. Although coyotes are known predators of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in their historic range, effects this new predator may have on eastern deer populations have received little attention. We speculated that in the southeastern United States, coyotes may be affecting deer recruitment, and we present 5 lines of evidence that suggest this possibility. First, the statewide deer population in South Carolina has declined coincident with the establishment and increase in the coyote population. Second, data sets from the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina indicate a new mortality source affecting the deer population concurrent with the increase in coyotes. Third, an index of deer recruitment at SRS declined during the period of increase in coyotes. Fourth, food habits data from SRS indicate that fawns are an important food item for coyotes during summer. Finally, recent research from Alabama documented significant coyote predation on fawns there. Although this evidence does not establish cause and effect between coyotes and observed declines in deer recruitment, we argue that additional research should proactively address this topic in the region. We identified several important questions on the nature of the deer–coyote relationship in the East.