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Factors influencing predation on juvenile ungulates and natural selection implications

January 1, 2008

Juvenile ungulates are generally more vulnerable to predation than are adult ungulates other than senescent individuals, not only because of their relative youth, fragility, and inexperience, but also because of congenital factors. Linnell et al.'s (Wildl. Biol. 1: 209-223) extensive review of predation on juvenile ungulates concluded that research was needed to determine the predisposition of these juveniles to predation. Since then, various characteristics that potentially predispose juvenile ungulates have emerged including blood characteristics, morphometric and other condition factors, and other factors such as birth period, the mother’s experience, and spatial and habitat aspects. To the extent that any of the physical or behavioral traits possessed by juvenile ungulates have a genetic or heritable and partly independent epigenetic component that predisposes them to predation, predators may play an important role in their natural selection. We review the possible influence of these characteristics on predisposing juvenile ungulates to predation and discuss natural selection implications and potential selection mechanisms. Although juvenile ungulates as a class are likely more vulnerable to predation than all but senescent adults, our review presents studies indicating that juveniles with certain tendencies or traits are killed more often than others. This finding suggests that successful predation on juveniles is more selective than is often assumed. Because we are unable to control for (or in some cases even measure) the myriad of other possible vulnerabilities such as differences in sensory abilities, intelligence, hiding abilities, tendency to travel, etc., finding selective predation based on the relatively few differences we can measure is noteworthy and points to the significant role that predation on juveniles has in the natural selection of ungulates. Future research should compare characteristics, especially those known to influence survival, between animals killed by predators versus those killed by other sources as well as survivors versus non-survivors to better understand predation's role in natural selection.

Publication Year 2008
Title Factors influencing predation on juvenile ungulates and natural selection implications
DOI 10.2461/WBP.2008.4.2
Authors Shannon Barber-Meyer, L. David Mech
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Wildlife Biology in Practice
Index ID 70216910
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center