Coyote removal, understory cover, and survival of white-tailed deer neonates
Predation by coyotes (Canis latrans) on white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) neonates has led to reduced recruitment in many deer populations in southeastern North America. This low recruitment combined with liberal antlerless deer harvest has resulted in declines in some deer populations, and consequently, increased interest in coyote population control. We investigated whether neonate survival increased after coyote removal, whether coyote predation on neonates was additive to other mortality sources, and whether understory vegetation density affected neonate survival. We monitored neonate survival for 4 years prior to (2006–2009) and 3 years during (2010–2012) intensive coyote removal on 3 32-km2 units on the United States Department of Energy's Savannah River Site, South Carolina. We removed 474 coyotes (1.63 coyotes/km2 per unit per year), reducing coyote abundance by 78% from pre-removal levels. The best model (wi = 0.927) describing survival probability among 216 radio-collared neonates included a within-year quadratic time trend variable, date of birth, removal treatment, and a varying removal year effect. Under this model, survival differed between pre-treatment and removal periods and it differed among years during the removal period, being >100% greater than pre-treatment survival (0.228) during the first removal year (0.513), similar to pre-treatment survival during the second removal year (0.202), and intermediate during the third removal year (0.431). Despite an initial increase, the overall effect of coyote removal on neonate survival was modest. Mortality rate attributable to coyote predation was lowest during the first removal year (0.357) when survival was greatest, but the mortality rate from all other causes did not differ between the pre-treatment period and any year during removals, indicating that coyote predation acted as an additive source of mortality. Survival probability was not related to vegetation cover, either directly or in interaction with coyote abundance. When the objective is to increase the recruitment of white-tailed deer, we conclude that neither coyote control nor vegetation management appear effective. Reduction of the antlerless harvest may be necessary to meet this objective, but this harvest strategy warrants additional research in Southeastern deer populations. Published 2014. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.