Foraging behavior, social interactions, and predation risk of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) at a concentrated resource
Stone, David Bledsoe
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Wildlife feeding is undertaken for a variety of reasons including increasing viewing opportunities, improving body condition, preventing starvation, and facilitating hunter harvest. I investigated anti-predator and foraging behavior at bait sites, the role of competition on bait site visitation, and spatio-temporal responses to baiting. During 2013 and 2014, I used global positioning system (GPS) telemetry and camera traps to assess white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) behavior at bait sites and implications for harvest susceptibility. Camera trap data indicated that foraging behavior was influenced by social interactions and breeding chronology. Co-occurrence of mature and immature males at a bait site negatively impacted feeding rates for immature males. I used a multi-state modeling approach to determine if deer temporally partitioned their use of bait sites based on dominance status and how the resulting patterns in bait site visitation would potentially expose deer to different sources of predation risk, depending on the activity patterns of the predator. I found that subordinate (yearling males and adult females) and dominant (adult males) cohorts avoided each other temporally at the patch level. Subordinates were more likely to use bait sites during diurnal hours during the pre- and post-breeding phases of the breeding season than dominants. Bait site visitation for dominants and subordinates did not differ during nocturnal hours in any phase of the breeding season. Lastly, I used dynamic Brownian bridge movement models and camera traps to assess harvest suscpetibility. I determined that hunters were less likely to encounter a deer at a bait site than non-baited areas in their home range, regardless of sex, age class, or phase of the breeding season. Although no sex-age class selected for bait sites over other portions of their home range during legal hunting hours, adult females were more susceptible to harvest at bait sites during the pre-breeding season than the breeding or post-breeding seasons. Conversely, adult and yearling males were more likely to visit a bait site during hunting hours in the post-breeding season than the pre- or breeding seasons. Social interactions, competitive status, and reproductive behaviors are important drivers of deer behavior and harvest susceptibility at bait sites.