Landscape heterogeneity reduces coyote predation on white-tailed deer fawns
Coyote (Canis latrans) predation on white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fawns in southeastern North America has led to deer population declines in some areas. Research or management efforts initiated in response to coyote predation on fawns have primarily focused on implementation of reduced antlerless deer harvest or coyote control to mitigate population declines. Vegetation characteristics may influence coyote hunting efficiency, but the potential influence of land cover at large scales in the southeastern United States is underexplored. We investigated whether mortality risk was affected by landscape characteristics within fawn home ranges for a sample of 165 fawns on the United States Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site (SRS), South Carolina, 2007–2012. We monitored fawns every 8 hours to 4 weeks of age and 1–3 times daily to 12 weeks of age. We included only surviving or coyotepredated fawns in the dataset. The most supportedmodel describing hazard ratios included the length of edge (i.e., area where 2 land cover types joined) in fawn home ranges. Probability of coyote predation increased 1.26 times for each 968-m decrease in edge within a fawn’s simulated home range (29.1-ha circular buffer) under this model. Further, fawns with the least edge in their home ranges were >2 times more likely to be depredated by a coyote than fawns with the greatest edge availability. Support for other models was relatively low, but informative variables (e.g., mean patch fractal dimension, Shannon’s diversity index, mean forest patch size) supported a general trend that as fawn home ranges became more homogeneous and contained larger patches with less edge and fewer cover types, predation risk increased. These findings are consistent with similar work in the midwestern United States, despite landscape differences between regions. The combined weight of evidence suggests maintenance of a heterogeneous landscape consisting of relatively small dispersed patches may reduce fawn losses to coyotes. This information may also be used to identify areas susceptible to greater fawn predation rates across large spatial scales. However, the relatively long forestry rotation lengths and large scale of consistent forest management on the SRS are uncommon in the southeastern United States and the mechanism for the pattern we observed is unclear. Therefore, our results may not be applicable to sites with different forest management practices.