Do biological and bedsite characteristics influence survival of neonatal white-tailed deer?
Coyotes recently expanded into the eastern U.S. and potentially have caused localized white-tailed deer population declines. Research has focused on quantifying coyote predation on neonates, but little research has addressed the potential influence of bedsite characteristics on survival. In 2011 and 2012, we radiocollared 65 neonates, monitored them intensively for 16 weeks, and assigned mortality causes. We used Program MARK to estimate survival to 16 weeks and included biological covariates (i.e., sex, sibling status [whether or not it had a sibling], birth weight, and Julian date of birth). Survival to 16 weeks was 0.141 (95% CI = 0.075-0.249) and the top model included only sibling status, which indicated survival was lower for neonates that had a sibling. Predation was the leading cause of mortality (35 of 55; 64%) and coyotes were responsible for the majority of depredations (30 of 35; 86%). Additionally, we relocated neonates for the first 10 days of life and measured distance to firebreak, visual obstruction, and plant diversity at bedsites. Survival of predation to 10 days (0.726; 95% CI = 0.586-0.833) was weakly associated with plant diversity at bedsites but not related to visual obstruction. Our results indicate that neonate survival was low and coyote predation was an important source of mortality, which corroborates several recent studies from the region. Additionally, we detected only weak support for bedsite cover as a covariate to neonate survival, which indicates that mitigating effects of coyote predation on neonates may be more complicated than simply managing for increased hiding cover.