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Eat or be eaten: Implications of potential exploitative competition between wolves and humans across predator-savvy and predator-naive deer populations
December 23, 2023
Recolonization of predators to their former ranges is becoming increasingly prevalent. Such recolonization places predators among their prey once again; the latter having lived without predation (from such predators) for a considerable time. This renewed coexistence creates opportunities to explore predation ecology at both fundamental and applied levels. We used a paired experimental design to investigate white-tailed deer risk allocation in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas (UP and LP) in Michigan, USA. Wolves are functionally absent in the LP, while deer in the UP coexist with a re-established wolf population. We treated 15 sites each in UP and LP with wolf olfactory cues and observed deer vigilance, activity, and visitation rates at the interface of habitat covariates using remote cameras. Such a paired design across wolf versus no-wolf areas allowed us to examine indirect predation effects while accounting for confounding parameters such as the presence of other predators and human activity. While wolf urine had no effect across most metrics in both UP and LP, we observed differences in deer activity in areas with versus without wolves. Sites treated with wolf urine in the UP showed a reduction in crepuscular deer activity, compared to control/novel-scent treated sites. Furthermore, we observed a strong positive effect of vegetation cover on deer vigilance in these sites. This indicates that simulated predator cues likely affect deer vigilance more acutely in denser habitats, which presumably facilitates predation success. Such responses were however absent among deer in the LP that are presumably naïve toward wolf predation. Where human and non-human predators hunt shared prey, such as in Michigan, predators may constrain human hunting success by increasing deer vigilance. Hunters may avoid such exploitative competition by choosing hunting/bait sites located in open areas. Our results pertaining to fundamental predation ecology have strong applied implications that can promote human–predator coexistence.
Author(s): Ellen M. Candler, Stotra Chakrabarti, William J. Severud, Joseph K. Bump