We studied the impact of red fox (Vulpes vulpes) predation on free-ranging roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) neonates during 14 years in a mixed forest/agricultural landscape in south central Sweden. A large-scale natural predator removal experiment occurred when an outbreak of sarcoptic mange (Sarcoptes scabiei) reduced the red fox population initially and caused subsequent variations in red fox abundance. We estimated relative red fox abundance by dividing number of fox observations with number of person-days in field. Red fox predation accounted for 88% of known mortality in roe deer fawns. Predation was closely correlated to red fox abundance, and there was a strong negative correlation between fox abundance and overall fawn survival. Fox abundance was the only factor with a significant effect on between year variation in fawn survival. Annual predation varied between zero and 90%. Our study recorded the highest predation rates for roe deer juveniles established to date. High fawn survival in years of low fox abundance suggested that predation mortality was additive during summer. Our results supported the conclusion that the large national increase of roe deer in Sweden during the 1980s and 1990s was related to lower fox predation on fawns and also indicated that the roe deer population density was well below habitat carrying capacity at the onset of the mange epidemic. In Sweden, in general, a thorough fox control will most likely result in increased fawn survival and higher potential roe deer harvest.
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