Ecology of white-tailed deer and bobcats on Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Roberts, Shane Benjamin
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This project was designed to integrate previous wildlife research and better understand the complex ecology of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and bobcats (Lynx rufus) on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, as affected by humans and their developments, and use this knowledge to prioritize habitat preservation efforts within this suburban environment. We radio-monitored a sample of adult does and neonatal fawns during 2002í2005 and the majority of the island’s bobcat population during 2004í2005. Bobcat predation was the major factor limiting deer population growth and variation in individual bobcat prey selection and the habitat configuration of the island played important roles in this relationship. Deer home ranges were small and adult doe survival was high, illuminating the importance of some form of deer population control. Bobcat home ranges were relatively small and reproduction appeared adequate to replace mortality losses, although movement rate data suggested bobcats were avoiding interactions with humans. Shrub was the most important habitat type for bobcats, although they also selected developed areas at night, potentially to exploit additional food resources. We observed a significant relationship between the portion of a bobcat’s home and core range in shrub habitat and range size, suggesting alteration of these important habitats could have negative effects on bobcat abundance. We modified an existing index of bobcat habitat suitability to consider the food, cover, and reproduction requirements of bobcats. Data suggested the index performed well in identifying important habitats for bobcats on the island and we showed how the index could be used to prioritize the habitat preservation efforts of a local conservation organization. We also describe how this organization has used the bobcat as an icon to stimulate community interest in the preservation of wildlife habitat on the island. Overall, our data suggest deer and bobcats have adapted well to Kiawah Island’s suburban landscape to date, but without significant habitat preservation efforts the future fragmentation of large undeveloped areas and shrub habitats could have negative effects on bobcat abundance, and in turn, this important predator-prey relationship.