Bed site selection is an important behavioral trait influencing neonate survival. Vegetation characteristics of bed sites influence thermal protection of neonates and concealment from predators. Although previous studies describe bed site selection of neonatal white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in regions of forested cover, none determined microhabitat effects on neonate bed site selection in the Northern Great Plains, an area of limited forest cover. During summers 2007–2009, we investigated bed site selection (n = 152) by 81 radiocollared neonate white-tailed deer in north-central South Dakota, USA. We documented 80 (52.6%) bed sites in tallgrass–Conservation Reserve Program lands, 35 (23.0%) bed sites in forested cover, and 37 (24.3%) in other habitats (e.g., pasture, alfalfa, wheat). Bed site selection varied with age and sex of neonate. Tree canopy cover (P < 0.001) and tree basal area (P < 0.001) decreased with age of neonates, with no bed sites observed in forested cover after 18 days of age. Male neonates selected sites with less grass cover (P < 0.001), vertical height of understory vegetation (P < 0.001), and density of understory vegetation (P < 0.001) but greater bare ground (P = 0.047), litter (P = 0.028), and wheat (P = 0.044) than did females. Odds of bed site selection increased 3.5% (odds ratio = 1.035, 95% CI = 1.008–1.062) for every 1-cm increase in vertical height of understory vegetation. Management for habitat throughout the grasslands of South Dakota that maximizes vertical height of understory vegetation would enhance cover characteristics selected by neonates.
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Vol. 74 • No. 6