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1 January 2008 Cougar Prey Selection in a White-Tailed Deer and Mule Deer Community
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Abstract
Widespread mule deer (Odocoilus hemionous) declines coupled with white-tailed deer (O. virginianus) increases prompted us to investigate the role of cougar (Puma concolor) predation in a white-tailed deer, mule deer, and cougar community in northeast Washington, USA. We hypothesized that cougars select for and disproportionately prey on mule deer in such multiple-prey communities. We estimated relative annual and seasonal prey abundance (prey availability) and documented 60 cougar kills (prey usage) from 2002 to 2004. White-tailed deer and mule deer comprised 72% and 28% of the total large prey population and 60% and 40% of the total large prey killed, respectively. Cougars selected for mule deer on an annual basis (αmd = 0.63 vs. αwt = 0.37; P = 0.066). We also detected strong seasonal selection for mule deer with cougars killing more mule deer in summer (αmd = 0.64) but not in winter (αmd = 0.53). Cougars showed no seasonal selection for white-tailed deer despite their higher relative abundance. The mean annual kill interval of 6.68 days between kills varied little by season (winter = 7.0 days/kill, summer = 6.6 days/kill; P = 0.78) or prey species (white-tailed deer = 7.0 days/kill, mule deer = 6.1 days/kill; P = 0.58). Kill locations for both prey species occurred at higher elevations during summer months (summer = 1,090 m, winter = 908 m; P = 0.066). We suspect that cougars are primarily subsisting on abundant white-tailed deer during winter but following these deer to higher elevations as they migrate to their summer ranges, resulting in a greater spatial overlap between cougars and mule deer and disproportionate predation on mule deer.
Hilary S. Cooley, HUGH S. ROBINSON, Robert B. Wielgus and Catherine S. Lambert "Cougar Prey Selection in a White-Tailed Deer and Mule Deer Community," Journal of Wildlife Management 72(1), (1 January 2008). https://doi.org/10.2193/2007-060
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