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Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) resource selection: Trade-offs between forage and predation risk

April 4, 2024

Ungulates commonly select habitat with higher forage biomass and or nutritional quality to improve body condition and fitness. However, predation risk can alter ungulate habitat selection and foraging behavior and may affect their nutritional condition. Ungulates often choose areas with lower predation risk, sometimes sacrificing higher quality forage. This forage–predation risk trade-off can be important for life history strategies and influences individual nutritional condition and population vital rates. We used GPS collar data from adult female mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and mountain lions (Puma concolor) to model mule deer habitat selection in relation to forage conditions, stalking cover and predation risk from mountain lions to determine if a forage-predation risk trade-off existed for mule deer in central New Mexico. We also examined mountain lion kill sites and mule deer foraging locations to assess trade-offs at a finer scale. Forage biomass and protein content were inversely correlated with horizontal visibility, hence associated with higher stalking cover for mountain lions, suggesting a forage-predation risk trade-off for mule deer. Mule deer habitat selection was influenced by forage biomass and protein content at the landscape and within home range spatial scales, with forage protein being related to habitat selection during spring and summer and forage biomass during winter. However, mule deer selection for areas with better foraging conditions was constrained by landscape-scale encounter risk for mountain lions, such that increasing encounter risk was associated with diminished selection for areas with better foraging conditions. Mule deer also selected for areas with higher visibility when mountain lion predation risk was higher. Mountain lion kill sites were best explained by decreasing horizontal visibility and available forage protein, suggesting that deer may be selecting for forage quality at the cost of predation risk. A site was 1.5 times more likely to be a kill site with each 1-meter decrease in visibility (i.e., increased stalking cover). Mule deer selection of foraging sites was related to increased forage biomass, further supporting the potential for a trade-off scenario. Mule deer utilized spatio-temporal strategies and risk-conditional behavior to reduce predation risk, and at times selected suboptimal foraging areas with lower predation risk.

Publication Year 2024
Title Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) resource selection: Trade-offs between forage and predation risk
DOI 10.3389/fevo.2024.1121439
Authors James W. Cain, Jacob H. Kay, Stewart G. Liley, Jay V. Gedir
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70254886
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle